Youth Court Leaders Shine

CAYC sitting on stairsThe Jurupa Unified Student Youth Court – recently honored with two major awards – has scored another win: Two Jurupa students have been seated on the California Association of Youth Courts (CAYC) Student Advisory Board.

The students, Camille Hermosillo, a Jurupa Valley High School junior, and Marco Gallegos, a senior at Patriot High, serve on a nine-member panel chosen from youth courts statewide. The group's mission is to support new and existing youth courts through networking, resource provision, and the sharing of best practices.

"It is an honor to have two Jurupa students serving on the CAYC board," said Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez , Director of Administrative Services for JUSD. "One of the main goals of our program is to develop leadership skills in all of our participants, and this is evidence that the goal is being met."

Jurupa's Youth Court, created in 2014, supports improvement – not punishment – for students in grades 7-12 who admit nonviolent infractions or misdemeanors ranging from truancy to bullying to drug possession. The students appear before a panel of their peers, who review the facts and issue sentences such as restitution, letters of apology, youth court service, tutoring, or counseling.

"In contrast to traditional disciplinary actions such as suspensions and expulsions, the program Youth Court provides the alternative restorative practice method to help the students learn from their mistakes," Camille says in the bio she wrote for the CAYC website. She serves as a juror and Spanish interpreter in the program.

Marco writes, "Being a long-standing member of my Teen Court has allowed me to spend my Saturdays volunteering for my community."

The Jurupa Student Youth Court meets two Saturdays a month during the school year and hears an average of five matters per session. Cases come to the court through schools or law enforcement as an alternative to winding through the county's criminal justice system. JUSD runs the program in partnership with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, the Jurupa Valley Sheriff's Station, and the nonprofit group Reach Out. Youth Court connects students with legal professionals, teaches them how courtrooms are run, and pulls teens out of their cliques to work with a cross-section of their peers. About 120 students participate in the program each year.

The program collected two high-level awards in recent months: It was named a 2017 Model of Academic Excellence and Innovation by the Riverside County Office of Education, and it received a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association. Both honors go to programs that support academic excellence while serving as models for other school districts. Judges for the Models of Excellence awards called Jurupa Youth Court an "exceptional practice" and gave the program a perfect score.

"The recognition that we have earned is a direct result of the commitment of our students to this program," said Mrs. Garza-Gonzalez. "Not only do they give up eight hours a month to the program, but they also are truly invested in finding the root cause of the behavior to best help their peers in moving forward."

Students can continue learning each year at the CAYC Youth Summit, where they study restorative practices and youth courts statewide. Youth court participants may apply for a scholarship to the CAYC conference this summer at Sonoma State University: JUSD sponsors an average of 10 attendees per year. Mrs. Garza-Gonzalez has been invited to present workshops at the summit to assist others in creating, funding, and improving youth court practices.

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