Ironwood Ridge high will have teen court next year - Tucson Local Media: Import

Ironwood Ridge high will have teen court next year

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Posted: Tuesday, May 4, 2004 11:00 pm

Sticking gum wads under desks and being habitually tardy won't guarantee an Ironwood Ridge High School student a trip to the principal's office much longer.

Next fall, the small-time flouters of the school's rules will get to choose who will dole out their punishments - a principal or a jury of their peers.

The 25 juniors and seniors enrolled in the brand-new Teen Court elective will study America's judicial system for six to eight weeks before assuming the roles of prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, court reporter and bailiff.

A plea of "guilty" is all a minor-league rule breaker needs to access the school's court - that and a stomach for being admonished by peers.

"The purpose behind the court is that peer pressure can work in negative ways, obviously, but it can also work in positive ways," said Amanda Stoxen, the soon-to-be teacher for Teen Court.

Volunteer jurors will be selected from Ironwood Ridge's entire population. The punishments at their disposal may include community service, mandatory tutoring sessions, a letter of apology, and attendance at a decision-making workshop.

Teen Court is a program of Pima Prevention Partnership, which helps foster conditions for positive change in communities by providing a range of services to individuals, community groups, agencies and institutions.

Pima Prevention Partnership is also opening a Northwest division of its Pima County Teen Court in May at the Magistrate Court in Oro Valley.

It is a teenager-run alternative to juvenile court that handles misdemeanor offenses including possessing drug paraphernalia, fighting, shoplifting and theft.

Teenagers wanting to participate can call 791-2711.

Ironwood Ridge will be the county's first high school to offer the Teen Court option, but about a dozen middle schools have it already.

La Cima Middle School has been encouraging its students to approach the stand for about five years.

"Sometimes that's the hardest part - sitting on the stand and hearing what you did wrong in front of your peers," said Phil Tilichi, a seventh grade teacher who helped to start the school's Teen Court. "They'd much rather plea bargain than go on trial. They'd rather have a harsher sentence than go on trial."

Tilichi said the students who play a role in selecting proper punishments feel proud of their service to their school. He said their positions carry prestige because they must be applied for, and require teacher recommendations. He said their work really does mean less work for administrators.

"The biggest thing is that the office doesn't get bogged down with minor offenses that can be dealt with outside the office," he said.

This fall's Teen Court crew at Ironwood Ridge won't have to meet any special criteria to participate, Stoxen said. That may change, though, when the program becomes established.

The crew's job will begin after a teacher or campus monitor writes a disciplinary referral for a student.

If the alleged rule breaker admits guilt and asks for court assistance, a prosecuting attorney and defense attorney will set out with notebooks in hand to interview the key players.

Teen court will handle minor offenses such as disruption or disrespect, dress code violations, gum chewing, abusive or profane language, tardiness, and vandalism or graffiti.

If there is an agreement between the Town of Oro Valley and Amphitheater Public Schools' legal office, the program could expand later to include other disciplinary infractions that lead to arrest.

A plea of "guilty" is necessary in Teen Court for maintaining order, Stoxen said.

"If you have a situation where a student is referred and is found to be not guilty, it takes some of the authority from the teachers," she said.

As the lawyers gather evidence, a bailiff will round up a volunteer jury, and court will go into session during a class-free conference period.

Only adults will hold the judge's gavel.

"They have the responsibility of keeping things moving," Stoxen said. "With Teen Court, my understanding is that they move through cases very quickly, so it's important to make sure the students don't go off track."

The teen court will strive to exact punishments that are more useful than the average detention or out-of-school suspension, Stoxen said.

"We want to focus on creating constructive discipline so a student who has gotten in trouble gets something out of the experience," she said. "At this point, typically they get detention or something, so we'll try to come up with some other consequences that might relate more closely to what they've done."

For example, she said, a student caught affixing wads of bubble gum to the undersides of desks might have to scrape away other peoples' affixed gum wads.

Stoxen said she expects that Teen Court will benefit not only offenders, but all other students as well.

"Having been a teenager, and having worked with teenagers, I know kids often feel that adults don't understand their perspective," she said. "So having the students make the decisions about the consequences should be a valuable thing.

"These are students making decisions about what they think is acceptable and what the consequences should be," she said. "It's nice the students have a say in what is going on on campus."

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