Learning Center educates public about legal system

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

The Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center in Lansing is beginning its tenth year of educating students and citizens about Michigan's legal system.

The Legal News talked to Learning Center Coordinator Rachael L. Drenovsky about the 3,800-square-foot facility, which is staffed mostly by volunteers who lead tours and work on special programs.

Q: What's the goal of the Learning Center?

A: It's often said that the judicial branch is the least understood branch of government. In a democracy, it is imperative that citizens understand the different branches of their government - the role each plays and its impact on our lives. So the goal of the Learning Center is to educate the public about Michigan's judicial branch. We try to show visitors how the law affects our lives in ways they may not have considered.

Q: How many tours and visitors did you have last year??

A: In 2011-2012, we hosted 363 tours for over 11,000 visitors. In total, over the past 10 years we've had over 112,000 visitors.?The great majority of tours are school groups, particularly classes in grades 3-5. That's when students first learn about state government. They come to Lansing to tour the Michigan Historical Museum, the State Capitol, and the Learning Center. It's a great combination, and students and their chaperones get to see all three branches of government in one day.

Q: Interactive exhibits play a big role at the center. Can you describe some of those?

A: One of the most popular exhibits is a mini trial court courtroom where you can pretend you're the judge, witness, plaintiff, or defense, and you can sit in the jury box. Each role also has a computer "game" that gives more information about the responsibility of each role. That exhibit alone dispels a lot of myths.?There are also hands-on exhibits about mediation, crime victim's rights, drug court, drinking and driving, and tribal courts. In addition, there are numerous traditional wall exhibits that cover a wide range of topics from constitutional rights to the history of the courts.

Q: You're staffed mostly by volunteers. How does someone become a volunteer?

A: We simply couldn't serve all our visitors without an excellent team of volunteers. They lead tours, assist with programs, and work on special projects. Many have a background in the law, government, or education, but that's not required. We have successful docents who are civic-minded but have totally unrelated work experience. To volunteer, an application form, background check, interview, and orientation are required. For more information, call 517-373-7171 or go to http://courts.mi.gov/plc.

Q: The Learning Center is 10 years old this November. What are your goals for the next 10 years? ??

A: To begin with, simply to make more people aware that the Learning Center is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the justice system.

Visitors to the Learning Center always seem surprised by how much we have to offer and how much we have for educators and students on our website. We'd like to share that with more people. ??For the long term, we want to make sure we're keeping the exhibits fresh and adding to them as needed. Obviously, to do that we need additional funding, so I am always looking for grants and other opportunities.

The Learning Center really is a jewel; at the time it opened, it was one of the first of its kind in the entire country, and there are still only a handful of education centers in state courthouses.

The Learning Center, located on the first floor of the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are available on a walk-in basis, but reservations are required for groups of 10 or more. To arrange a tour, call 517-373-7171 or email at DrenovskyR@courts.mi.gov.

Published: Thu, Oct 4, 2012

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