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As part of their efforts to provide career-advancing opportunities for students, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD students enrolled in the district’s Pre-Law Institute had the opportunity to intern with various local attorneys and judges in the Rio Grande Valley this summer.

First started in the fall of 2018, the PSJA Pre-Law Institute is an enrichment program for students in 10th to 12th grade interested in pursuing a law degree or a career in the legal field. PSJA School Board President Jesse Zambrano, an attorney himself, felt this program would be beneficial for students to learn early on what a degree in law entails and the expectations of being a law student.

“I believe that it is important to get students started early in terms of their educational goals, and certainly, a career in law takes a lot of planning,” Zambrano said. “This is a great way for the attorneys and the judges to work with our students right now so they can get better guidance. Our students will also be better prepared if they decide to pursue a career in law.”

According to University of Texas Rio Grande Valley professor and attorney Jaime Peña at the Peña Aleczander Law Firm, the experience high school students gained from these internships was invaluable.

“Students are getting to learn the skills, build up their resumes, grow their connections, and network,” Peña said. “Some of our interns have worked on defense cases in federal court, so they’ve worked behind the scenes with experts and witnesses.”

For Laylani Garza, an incoming senior at PSJA Memorial Early College High School, her internship at Peña Aleczander taught her how to network, build relationships, and how a law firm functioned.

“Shadowing an attorney and judge has been exciting,” Garza said. “I thought it was going to be simple, but looking into it, it’s a lot more. I have experienced more than I actually thought. I am glad to have had this opportunity.”

In addition to interning at Peña Aleczander this summer, PSJA ISD students worked at the Office of O’Hanlon, Demerath & Castillo and with Hidalgo County Probate Court Judge JoAnne Garcia.

According to Peña, providing career-advancing opportunities in the legal field for students at the high school level has now inspired local universities to step up.

“Having students work side by side with people in the profession that they are interested in is something the universities don’t necessarily do,” Peña said. “Some of our interns worked on defense cases in federal court, so they’ve worked behind the scenes with experts and witnesses.”

As a result of the opportunities offered through the PSJA Pre-Law Institute, Peña shared that the Peña Aleczander Law Firm applied to offer credits to UTRGV students who also complete internships — an idea inspired by PSJA ISD’s program.

“I didn’t expect the experience to be so vivid,” said PSJA T. Jefferson T-STEM ECHS senior Rena Ross. “The experience I have gained is wonderful and I would say is the best I have had so far in my life.”

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