Judge JoAnne Garcia presides over the Hidalgo County Probate Court. When she was asked to serve on the PSJA ISD Pre-Law Institute Advisory Board, she readily agreed. As she looks back on its first year, she identifies three aspects of the Institute that stand out for her.
“Number one,” Garcia said, “is it’s a great opportunity for the kids, at a minimum, to be exposed to professionals in the legal field.”
In the monthly workshops, she said, legal experts covered such topics in relation to education. What undergraduate major should a student choose? What should a college student’s grade point average be for law school admission? When should students begin studying for the Law School Admission Test?
“It’s invaluable,” Garcia said. “I didn’t grow up around legislators. I didn’t know judges. That was all foreign to me.”
“Number two, the Institute builds up a confidence that law school is a realistic goal,” Garcia said.
Students who participated in the Institute found something remarkable. Many of the experts they met throughout the year are graduates of schools in the Rio Grande Valley. This includes attorneys, judges, legislators, the Hidalgo County DA and Sheriff, and others. Several, like Judge Garcia, graduated from PSJA high schools.
The third thing, Garcia said, is that students, and many in the general public, have a misconception about lawyers.
They think they must be either personal-injury attorneys or criminal attorneys because that is what they see on TV.
“In the Pre-Law Institute,” Garcia said, “students get to see different types of law. My court, for example, is completely different. Most don’t even know the Probate Court exists.” Through the Institute, students had the opportunity to learn about the legal issues covered in this court, including guardianship, child support, and probating wills.
Garcia also offered a summer internship throughout the month of June to an Institute student.
“She had the opportunity to visit other courts, as well,” Garcia said about her intern. “She was exposed to different roles in the court—court reporters, for example—and she saw that all aspects of the court are important.
PSJA ISD School Board President Jesse Zambrano owns The Zambrano Law Firm. Serving as lead for the Institute Advisory Board, she says the PSJA Pre-Law Institute is only the beginning.
“We are working on adding institutes in the areas of social services, information technology, engineering, sports medicine, law enforcement, and teaching,” Zambrano said. Those institutes are on the schedule to begin during the upcoming school year. But the institute vision goes even further than that.
“I want to expand these programs to all elementary and middle schools in the district so we can create awareness from the time our students are in elementary,” Zambrano said. “Once we do that, the concept of going to law school, or engineering school, or other rewarding professions will not be foreign for any student in PSJA ISD.”