by Rachel Witkowski
Eight high school students from Jacksonville received a three-day crash course in the legal world at the first legal camp organized by the University of North Florida.
FutureNOW! was established this year through the UNF Legal Studies Institute and the Division of Continuing Education. Students age 14 through 17 from four different high schools in Jacksonville attended the three-day clinic that started Wednesday and ended Friday.
“The center for Legal Studies has been wanting to expand and work more with the community,” said Ari de Jonge, FutureNOW! coordinator. “The youth, especially, was the next group we wanted to target.”
The Institute began sending out applications in May and received eight back. The camp cost $245, but de Jonge said several students received scholarships from the Center and other sponsorships. Three female students from the Practical Academic Cultural Education Center for Girls Inc., an alternative educational outlet for at-risk females, received funding from their school to attend the camp.
“Yesterday (Thursday) in the courtroom, that was great,” said Robin Waller, an 11th-grader at PACE who witnessed a juvenile sentencing in the Duval County Courthouse as part of the clinic’s tour. “It made me really want to be a lawyer.“
The students spent the first day getting to know each other and a panel of area legal professionals from secretaries to judges. They also attended four sessions pertaining to law, such as “TV vs. Reality” and “A day in the life” of County Judge Mallory Cooper.
“It’s fun,” said Niral Patel, a sophomore at Stanton High. “I learned that being a lawyer is a lot of hard work. You really have to buckle down.”
The students spent their Thursday Downtown in the County Courthouse and at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. Most of the students said their favorite part of the clinic was witnessing a juvenile trial.
The students spent their last day at UNF
participating in a mock trial about a boyfriend who allegedly shot his girlfriend when she denied his marriage proposal. They then had to decide the final verdict. The camp ended with a certificate ceremony by de Jonge.
“I just hope that they are really motivated professionally and personally,” she said, “and that they can recognize that hard work and determination can get you where you want to be.”
FutureNOW! will continue to be an annual legal camp in the summer, said de Jonge, but next year it might have a different agenda for repeat students.