It’s not unheard of to find a middle school that has a legal studies program. Nova Middle School in Davie ups the ante, though, because it has just installed a life-sized, completely realistic courtroom in a classroom.
"The courtroom has given our students the chance to be in a real-life setting every day they’re in class," said the school’s principal, Dr. Jermaine Fleming.
It’s the heart of Nova’s legal studies program. 240 seventh and eighth graders are learning all aspects of law. The courtroom becomes an indispensable tool, with students learning the roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors and judges.
"They get a lot of in-trial, in-court experience, so it’s not just about litigation, but it’s probably the most exciting thing that they want to do," legal studies teacher Chris Relyea said.
On the day NBC 6 visited, a student was on trial, arguing for a higher grade on his essay assignment. That’s just one of the ways they utilize the courtroom to teach the principles of litigation, which has a ripple effect of benefits.
"This class does a really great job of getting these kids prepared for research, interpersonal skills, public speaking," Relyea said. "They do more writing in there than probably any other class, it's a lot of real world experience."
"The over-arching benefit is they become better citizens," Dr. Fleming said.
The courtroom itself if brand new, built entirely with donated money, including a $10,000 check from a legal and medical referral company. That’s why the courtroom is officially called the “411 Pain Courtroom."
Dr. Fleming said the legal studies program goes hand-in-hand with the school’s debate program. Many students are enrolled in both, which he says is great training whether they go into law as adults or any other field.
“A big part of school now has become the confidence that you need to present yourself, and to interview for a job and to speak eloquently when you need to," Dr. Fleming said.
One of the program’s teachers, Eli Atlas, was a lawyer before he left that profession. Now he’s sort of doing both, teaching law to students eager to learn it.
Anyone who wants their child in the program has to sign up for Nova’s lottery system. Nova is not a magnet school. Admissions are determined by the luck of draw, but anyone in Broward is eligible to try. The deadline for signups, for Nova’s lottery and all Broward County Public Schools magnet programs, is February 12th.