Fourteen years ago in a classroom at Glendale’s John Muir Elementary School, student Nicole Vartanyan was introduced to the criminal justice system through the District Attorney’s Project LEAD program.
She remembers her former instructor, Deputy District Attorney Jane Creighton; how thick the California Penal Code books were; taking part in a mock criminal trial; meeting a drug-detection scent dog; and being inspired to pursue a career in the law.
This past year, Vartanyan became even more familiar with the California Penal Code. She worked as a student law clerk, getting a front-row seat in the criminal justice system while serving as an extern in the Hardcore Gang Division and the Elder Abuse Section.
In May, she graduated from Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law and is now preparing to take the California Bar Examination with the hopes of becoming a prosecutor. She is the first Project LEAD graduate to work as a law clerk in the District Attorney’s Office.
“Project LEAD definitely gave my interest in the law a push,” the 24-year-old said. “It made it more real to actually meet people in the legal field and law enforcement.”
Vartanyan is one of more than 33,000 Los Angeles County students who graduated from Project LEAD since its started in 1993. Through the program, students learn about the criminal justice system, conflict resolution, peer pressure, respect for diversity and making the right decisions in life.
Deputy district attorneys, investigators, paralegals and others volunteer to spend roughly one hour a week with students throughout the school year. Employees are encouraged to volunteer so they may have a positive impact on children in their communities.
Creighton said it was amazing to hear that her former student is now pursuing the law as a career.
“Sometimes you don’t realize the impact the District Attorney’s Office has in the community,” the prosecutor said. “It touches your heart.”
For more information on Project LEAD, click here.