Sophomore Jordan Carson looks forward to the day she can practice testifying in a courtroom without even having to leave campus.

Jordan, a student at the Marshall Law and Medical Services Magnet School, doesn’t have long to wait. A new, 80,000 square-foot building dedicated to the magnet school is expected to be completed by November, expanding Northside Independent School District’s oldest high school.

The $22.1 million project is part of the $850 million bond package Northside voters approved in May 2018. The new building will house a mock courtroom, physical therapy labs, a hospital-like triage area, and flexible classroom space that can be converted to suit each day’s lessons.

“Our campus is designed to be a project-based learning campus where students’ learning is driven through hands-on learning activities, and researching, questioning, and really taking a deep dive into the topics that are presented, and this building will allow students to do that,” Principal Margaret Bray said.

That’s exactly the kind of learning environment Jordan wants. The 15-year-old applied to attend the magnet school, which opened in 2019, because she wants to pursue a career in criminal behavioral analysis. Learning remotely this school year has eliminated many opportunities for hands-on experience, such as taking field trips and listening to guest speakers. But the new building will give Jordan and other students a “deeper experience” than a typical classroom setting, she said.

“It’s no longer terminology anymore,” Jordan said.

About 300 freshmen and sophomores are currently enrolled in Marshall’s magnet school, Bray said. The school will add another class in 2021-22 and grow enrollment by about another 150 students. The first seniors will graduate from the magnet school in 2023.

A portrait of Marshall Law and Medical Services Magnet School Sophomore Jordan Carson. A new, 80,000 square-foot building dedicated to the magnet school is expected to be completed by November, expanding Northside Independent School District’s oldest high school. Photos taken on March 5, 2021.
The future Marshall Law and Medical Services Magnet School building is under construction. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Marshall Law and Medical Services magnet offers 10 fields of study for students to gain practical knowledge and skills in: criminal justice, court systems, behavioral health, emergency medical technician, fire science, legal governance, public administration, pre-nursing, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

Jordan is taking law enforcement classes, where she learns legal terminology and practical skills like how to use handcuffs and how to write a traffic citation. This is her second year taking law enforcement classes at Marshall. Jordan said the program has introduced her to different types of law enforcement and career opportunities. She thought about joining the FBI or CIA, but now she is considering starting her own behavioral analysis practice.

That’s the exposure criminal justice teacher Emmanuel Hernandez wants to provide his students. A licensed peace officer and U.S. Air Force veteran, Hernandez has the real-world experience and knowledge to develop curriculum that informs and challenges students.

“The good part about being a part of a magnet school is that we have the flexibility to tailor our courses for specific job fields,” he said. “It really does help guide the students to what they really want to do.”

Hernandez enjoys the flexibility to incorporate current events into his coursework. He recently assigned his students a project in which they had to conduct research and talk to experts about the various ways COVID-19 is affecting the criminal justice system. For example, some students focused on how the court system works during the pandemic with no in-person hearings or trials being held.

“The students were excited because they made contact with law enforcement officials in Houston and Austin and in different states,” he said. “They’re getting that opportunity to network. At the same time, they’re harnessing that relationship and possibly opening doors to their future.”

Hernandez believes the new building will enhance the project-based learning environment at Marshall, whose main campus buildings were constructed in 1950. As the mock trial sponsor, he is particularly excited about the mock courtroom, where students can practice trying a court case or watch a practicing attorney teach them courtroom rules and procedures.

For Bray, the fact that the new building will help give students real-world experience before going to college or joining the workforce is invaluable.

“That is incredibly valuable for our students to give them the space where they can engage in these types of learning activities, higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, and gain industry-based certifications that they can take into the workforce once they graduate,” she said.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.