Teens Get a Taste of Law and Government in Alameda County District Attorney's Justice Academy

Teens interested in law, government, or social justice have a unique opportunity available to them: the Alameda County District Attorney's Justice Academy. The District Attorney's Justice Academy (DAJA) is a six month learning and working experience for high school students ages 16 and up who are interested in pursuing the study of law, justice, social justice, and the courts.

"We know that these students are the community leaders of the future. We hope to engage, challenge and spark a keen interest in the justice system, in social justice and the way the law has an effect on their lives," says Teresa Drenick, deputy district attorney. "We want to inspire them to think critically, to speak up and to continue learning."

During the spring semester, DAJA students meet twice monthly to participate in highly engaging and thought-provoking seminars led by legal experts in the field. These meetings encourage students to think critically and analytically, research, ask questions, and problem-solve. Previous speakers and topics have included:

- "The Role of the Alameda County District Attorney and an In-Depth Explanation of the Legislative Process," Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O'Malley

- "Science and the Law," Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Office of General Counsel

- "Overview of the Judicial System and the Role of a Judge," with Alameda County Superior Court Judges

- "An Introduction to Child Dependency Law," with Roger Chan, executive director of the East Bay Children's Law Office

Over the summer, DAJA participants are placed in a paid internship with a local government agency, non-profit organization, the office of an elected official, or a private law office. Previous worksites have included:

- Offices of U.S. Congress members - Alameda County District Attorney's office - Alameda County Supervisors' offices - Offices of State Assembly members - Local police departments - Non-profit organizations focused on social justice - Private law offices - Local city departments - Offices of local elected officials - Offices of Superior Court judges

At the conclusion of the program, the participants present an oral argument on a topic they encountered in the seminar series. The idea behind DAJA is to teach teens about the many facets of the justice system while encouraging critical thought and civic engagement.

The program was launched in 2012, enlisting 16-18 year old students from the Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore School Districts. Today, the program has been expanded to include students from those districts as well as Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Castro Valley, Emeryville, Hayward, Oakland, Piedmont, San Leandro, and San Lorenzo.

So far, the results have been impressive. All DAJA alumni are enrolled in college, with over half majoring in a justice-oriented subject. Over 90 percent reported that the DAJA contributed to their preparation for college or career, and a similar number have either participated in internships or are employed since completing the program.

"I love watching the evolution of the students from day one through the end of the program - their ability speak in public, to interact with adults and act in a very professional manner," Drenick says. "I also am very proud of the internships each student has over summer - their ability to work in a professional setting, to contribute and to learn. Finally, I am very proud of the successes of our graduates, all of whom have gone on to college and many of whom are now studying in fields that we introduced during the academy."

DAJA is a collaborative program of the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, La Familia Counseling , and Youth Enrichment Services at Hayward Adult School (The Hayward Center for Education and Careers), with additional funding from the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board. In addition, funds from Hacienda Helping Hands, the park's charitable foundation, have provided scholarships for some enrollees.

For additional information on the Alameda County District Attorney's Justice Academy, access the program's web site at alcoda.org/community_outreach/justice_academy .

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