Courthouse internship gives 30 students unique firsthand knowledge

Jayla Williams, a senior at Suncoast High School, had reservations about giving up time during her summer to attend a unique two-week program offered by the Clerk and Comptroller’s Office of Palm Beach County.

But after some persuading from a teacher, Williams decided to take advantage of the opportunity — a decision she is glad she made.

“It feels like this is an opening to different career paths,” said Williams, who hopes to attend UCF or Villanova. “I’m kind of undecided, but I feel like I want to be a communications major now.”

Bright and early each morning, Williams and a group of nearly 30 other Palm Beach County students gather in a classroom-like setting on the fifth floor of the Palm Beach County Courthouse.

They are for the Summer Financial and Justice Literacy Internship Program, a 12-day program that features crash courses on a financial literacy and the judicial system.

“The sessions are a mix of professional finance, personal finance and exposure to public service because we have an opportunity to give kids an idea of maybe picking a public-sector job versus private,” said Shannon R. Chessman, Chief Operating Officer of Finance for the Clerk and Comptroller.

The students, who earn 72 hours of volunteer credits, learn how to dress and showcase their skills during interviews, as well as how to professionally use social media. They also gain hands-on experience in several financial disciplines and learn first-hand about the court system.

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“I’ve known for years that I wanted to be a lawyer, but some of my friends, when they came in, had no clue what they wanted to be,” said Ian Hulnick, a student at American Heritage. “Now they are sort of thinking ‘oh, it might be nice to be a lawyer,’ so it’s good to see how someone can change in just a few days from seeing what they see here.”

Hulnick said the program has provided him with skills and knowledge that will aid his career in the legal system. And it’s that exposure that is so important to young adults.

“I think other students would be interested in the program if they knew it was here,” said Weidmayer Pierre, a class president at Lake Worth High School who hopes to one day attend Florida State and get into politics. “I’ve had people on my Snapchat and Instagram, when they saw I was going to the courthouse, say ‘oh man, how I do that?’”

The curriculum evolves year-to-year. On Tuesday, the students broke into groups and learned about branding and later will have opportunity to spend one-on-one time with judges.

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“We started very lecture style in our very first year and learned the kids do not like that,” Chessman said. “They sit in class all year and they don’t want to be lectured to, they want to do hands-on lessons, so we’ve morphed along the way.”

“It’s a mix of what the students like, and what’s going on in the community that we think would be beneficial to them,”

For instance, the program has reached out to the League of Women Voters to provide education on the political system. Coordinators wanted to educate students but at the same time remain neutral on opinions.

“I feel like it’s a well-rounded program and that as many kids as possible should try to take advantage of the opportunities that they give,” Williams said.

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