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NHS Student Learns About Law At NYLF Conference



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NHS Student Learns About Law At NYLF Conference

By Tanjua Damon

Understanding the law and how the process works can be intriguing for many young adults. Newtown High School senior Jessica Oswald was able to take an opportunity to get some insight about this topic during a week in Washington, D.C.

The National Youth Leadership Forum Conference was held March 13 through March 18. High school students from across the nation came together to gain information and understanding about the law. Students participated in mock trials, received lectures from attorneys and judges, as well as toured the nation’s capital.

“I was really interested before I went,” Jessica said. “I think I got a better feel for what it [law] is like.”

While in Washington, Jessica was able to participate in a Youth Court, where peers hand down sentences to youths who have committed crimes like theft, burglary, and trespassing. She was a foreman for one of the sessions of the unique court.

“It’s a jury of teenagers that decide the punishment for other teens who went to court [and] have already been found guilty,” Jessica said. “It’s a really good experience.”

The teenagers being brought to court for punishment receive mandatory community service ranging from 32 to 72 hours, according to Jessica. The students may also have to serve on jury duty themselves, write a letter of apology, or be sent to a correctional institution.

More than 350 high school students participated in the week’s events. US Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke to the students about the legal process and the role education plays in becoming an attorney or judge.

US Attorney for the District of Columbia Wilma Lewis was the keynote speaker for the forum. She addressed gun violence, which courts deal with on a daily basis. Ms Lewis explained to the students that the juvenile system addresses rehabilitation, while the adult system gives penalties and the court system has to deal in both issues with what is best for society.

Jessica was even able to take a peek at Senator Hillary Clinton after the youths toured the Capitol. Jessica said she and some of the others from the NYLF stopped by Sen Clinton’s office but were told they could not see her due to scheduling. But the group of youths overheard that Sen Clinton would be leaving at 2:30 pm so they came back at that time.

The students were able to take pictures and shake hands with the new senator.

“It’s kind of funny. Her office is in the basement,” Jessica said. “She was walking down the hallway. She shook our hands. It was neat.”

Jessica felt the trip to D.C. was important and worthwhile because it gave her an opportunity to see first hand how the law works and was able to gain some perspective about the legal system.

“It was the greatest learning experience, especially Youth Court,” she said. “It was interesting going to the law offices seeing what they actually do.”

Jessica was also a supreme court justice during a mock trial in which participants at the NYLF Conference dealt with the case Santa Fe vs. Doe, which is about prayer in schools.

“We had to listen to arguments from both sides and ask relevant questions,” Jessica said. “Our group voted 9-0 in favor of school prayer.”

Taking part in the National Youth Leadership Forum allowed Jessica see for herself the legal system and its components. It gave her information that she can share with her Government class at Newtown High School.

“I learned a lot about the law and the court system. I learned a lot about what I’m learning in Government class,” Jessica said. “You have to be open to meeting people and new ideas. You can’t be afraid to give your opinions.”

Jessica was nominated to attend the conference by Newtown High School Guidance Counselor Gerry Waterbury.

NYLF provides high school students with opportunities for students to learn about various careers. For more information about the National Youth Leadership Forum visit the Internet site at www.nylf.org.

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