About 75 middle school students and their family members stood to attention in a classroom at Towson High School Tuesday night, as James Ridgely, a trial advocacy teacher for the school's law and public policy magnet program, played the role of a courtroom bailiff.
On "trial" was Towson High junior Garrett Millard, playing the part of a student accused of possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana.
Garrett was not in actual trouble. The mock trial served as a way for prospective Towson High School students to get a feel for what it might be like to be a part of the school's magnet program, according to the program's coordinator, Julie Kromsky.
For a few hours Tuesday night, about 240 middle school students and their families roamed the halls of Towson High stopping to ask current students questions about their experiences participating in the program, getting a feel for the internship and extracurricular opportunities the program offers, and participating as jurors in a mock trial led by current students in the magnet program.
The showcase was one of many planned throughout October and November at Baltimore County Public Schools ahead of the county's Nov. 17 application deadline for those interested in enrolling in one of the county's magnet programs during the 2018-19 school year.
Magnet programs enrich student educational experiences and academic performance through unique learning environments and instructional programs, according to school officials. The school system's more than 100 magnet programs offer qualified students specialized courses of study in areas ranging from the fine arts to health sciences.
Towson High's interdisciplinary program teaches topics relevant to law and public policy. Students develop communication, writing and presentation skills through law-related courses, mock trials and internships.
Prospective students may apply to up to three programs. Towson High has already received more than 200 applications for 60 available seats in its magnet, with the number expected to increase before the deadline, Kromsky said.
Current students have visited the state capitol in Annapolis to see the Maryland General Assembly at work and shadowed Baltimore County government workers, according to Ligia Mardari, a sophomore who is zoned for Dulaney High School but chose to attend Towson High for its magnet program.
"I like how much I am able to see everyone because we have the same people in our classes," Ligia said. "The topics are also interesting. Prior to taking this class, I didn't know the [information] I do now."
Alex Jankowski, an eighth-grader at Parkville Middle School, said she is considering Towson High's law and public policy program and the environmental science program at Sparrows Point High School, in Edgemere. The showcase gave her a good feel for the law program, she said.
"I'm just thinking about it now, but I thought this would let me see if it's something I really wanted to do," Alex said.
Thirteen-year-old Dionte Turneris already enrolled in the law and finance magnet at Loch Raven Academy. His mother, Christina Turner, brought him to Towson Tuesday night to experience what the law program would look like in high school, she said.
"Towson and Eastern Tech are the top two schools for law, according to his teachers, so I would like to see him here," Turner said. "He was just saying, 'I know all about [law] but I want to see how it is in high school.'"
When it came time for the Turners to enter the classroom and experience a mock trial, Dionte headed straight to the juror stand to participate.
After the defense attorneys and prosecutors made their respective arguments to the audience, judge and jurors, senior Andrew Benavides, the trial's judge, asked jurors to reach a verdict. Green flash cards with the letters "NG" declared the defendant was not guilty and the judge declared Millard free to go.