Thursday, December 2, 2010

Youth Court: Part 1 (of a 2 part series)

                               Pictured Ray Thompson and YC students

I recently visited the Chester High School Youth Court. I wanted to learn more about what they do. The Youth Court is a partnership between Chester Upland School District, CEDRiC, and the Unity Center. The Youth Court program is grant funded. The program was started 4 years ago by Media Attorney Gregg Volz, a legal consultant and English Department Head and teacher Raymond Thompson who is a faculty Advisor for Youth Court. Retired Social Studies Teacher Thomas Reigner and NAACP President Darrell Jones are Youth Coordinators. Social Studies Teacher John Simmons is a Youth Court teacher and teaches the course Street Law. They supervise the program but the students run the program.  Their motto is “students helping students make better decisions.” Youth Court has a neat brochure that explains what they do.

What is Youth Court? It is an alternative to the traditional school discipline process. The disposition process is not a determination of guilt or innocence. Offenders must admit guilt to participate. Offenders who complete dispositions can have the offense expunged from their records. Youth Court hears level one offenses such as truancy, tardiness, cutting and hall walking, disruption, and dress code violations.   

How does Youth Court works? Once students are referred for disciplinary action, eligible students meet with YC Coordinator and complete an intake interview. A student who agrees to participate in YC signs an agreement and a hearing date is set for the student to appear before a jury of peers. The facts of the case are determined. The student explains their role in the case. Then the jury deliberates and delivers a constructive disposition which provides both retribution (amendment of misdeed) and rehabilitation (correction of behavior).

What are constructive dispositions? Constructive dispositions are an alternative to punitive actions. Instead of the student serving detentions or suspensions, they have an opportunity to improve their behavior by changing the wrongdoing. While punitive dispositions remove the student from both the classroom and school building, constructive dispositions help students make better decisions and to be a more active and contributing member of the school community. Constructive dispositions include: letters of apology, jury duty on Youth Court, academic support like tutoring and credit recovery, peer mentoring, anger management, and job skills.

In part 2, I will share my observations and more information. What is the good news? Students are making a difference in Youth Court.    


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