High School in the Community celebrated the opening of its new mock courtroom Wednesday, complete with a jury box and judge’s stand.

A $500,000 grant from the state Commissioner’s Network fully funded the construction of the mock courtroom as well as other improvements to the school, such as new paintwork. The room was completed in July, and took approximately eight months to be constructed. Nearly 40 students, faculty, city officials and community members attended the opening ceremony, which marked a moment of celebration for a school that has been rapidly improving after decades of struggle.

“[This is the] official opening, but you better believe we have been using it from the moment we could get inside,” said Matt Brown, HSC’s building leader.

With the addition of the courtroom, HSC is offering a mock trial class this year, taught by HSC teacher Jack Stacey. He said the course teaches students about famous law cases and serves as an introduction to the field.

However, the courtroom will also be used for other classes. HSC senior Di’jhon McCoy, for example, will use the courtroom to present her senior research project. Before the multipurpose courtroom’s construction, McCoy would have had to present in the school’s gymnasium amid echoes of basketball bounces.

“It’s just me and my voice being heard for a change,” McCoy said.

The lack of a proper presentation venue is only one of many difficulties the school has faced since its founding in 1970. At first, HSC held its classes in local community spaces such as the New Haven Green because it did not have a building of its own. In 2012, HSC became the sixth New Haven school to enter the city’s “turnaround” program, a plan to drastically improve schools designated as low-performing by the city.

When outgoing NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 took the stage at the inauguration ceremony Wednesday, he lauded the success the district has had with its turnaround schools.

Students in HSC’s Mock Trial Class participated in a legal skit at the ceremony where students enacted a jury selection for a civil lawsuit.

HSC sophomore Sofia Yanza Rivera, who is in the mock trial class, said using the mock courtroom has helped her understand what a real courtroom could be like. Yanza Rivera is also a member of the New Haven Youth Court, an alternative to the juvenile justice system where youths conduct hearings for other juveniles that have broken the law.

Harries encouraged students like McCoy and Yanza Rivera to continue to work hard. He added that participating in mock trial is good preparation for students who might hold positions in the future that require strong public speaking skills.

HSC is a self-declared “Academy for Law and Social Justice” and its social justice mission was discussed at the event.

Brown said the school is a place that “says yes to kids” and encourages them to pursue their ideas and goals. He said the courtroom will be helpful in formalizing legal education at HSC with the addition of the mock trial class.

HSC is located at 175 Water St.