At DuPont Hadley Middle School in Old Hickory, Tenn., students operate a youth court that is a central part of the school’s approach to developing students’ social and emotional skills. The court—which works with students to make amends for certain behaviors like being tardy for school or being disruptive—was set up to help students understand how their negative actions impact others and the overall culture of the school, says Tiffany McKie, an English teacher at DuPont Hadley and the court’s faculty sponsor.
The goal of the court is to help students learn from mistakes—not be punished for them—and become better citizens of their school, their family, and their community, McKie says. Students who serve on the court are recommended first by their teachers and their peers, but McKie says the main criteria for serving on the court is for students to have shown they want to help others. In watching how students react to the consequences that their peers give them, McKie says they tend to respond positively when they receive advice from their peers on the court.
One of McKie’s students is serving in her second year on the court.
“Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured.”
This quote really speaks volumes about the youth court in my school and what we do.
What is youth court? I’m glad you asked!
Youth courts, also called peer courts, are groups of young people who have been trained to hear actual cases of offenses committed by their peers. While youth courts can take various forms, in the restorative justice model at our school the court is a youth-led process to help young people understand the harm their actions have caused to others and to their DuPont Hadley community.
All Rise, Court Is Now in Session!
The goals of our court are to help students take steps to repair that harm, and to learn to make better decisions in the future. In contrast to suspension, detention, or other punishments, youth courts reinforce membership in the community.
I am proud and honored to be a part of a group that helps students realize their mistakes, correct them, and become better versions of themselves.
I wanted to become a leader in my school, so I was excited when I heard that I had been recommended to join the Hadley Court. I first joined in 7th grade and I knew right away I was going to be very dedicated to it.
I have always been someone who wants to help others. I knew that being on the court would teach me how to guide others to doing good things.
I believe that my student peers are nervous in some ways when they come before the court. We have had some negative reactions, but we handle them very well.
Most of my peers always realize the mistake they made and fix it.
For example, we had a student who was gossiping and rumor spreading. It really had a negative impact on other students’ learning environment. As a consequence, our court required this student to do some character education with members of Hadley Court.
We, as a court, met with the student and worked through a lesson on how spreading rumors and gossip harms others. The student then realized how he was going to change his behavior.
There are different roles in the youth court. I began as a member of the jury. In that role, it was my job to ask the respondents questions to learn more about the situation that had brought them to the court.
Then I, along with my fellow jury members would decide on how we were going to help them make amends. It could be a written apology, character lessons, tutoring, or providing a service to help the school or community.
Now, as the court’s bailiff, I assist the judge during court. I escort the respondent in and out of the courtroom. I also recite the oaths to the respondent, the jury, and the entire courtroom. Being a part of the jury and advancing to the bailiff was quite an experience.
Being in Hadley Court has made people view me as a leader and a person that is always willing to help others. Hadley Court has also created a safe environment for our school.
It has given students a place where they can be honest and truthful without being judged. It usually takes them a while to get used to being in front of Hadley Court, but eventually they warm up to us and tell their side of the story. I feel like they are more comfortable with peers their age.
I hope Hadley Court advances and continues to grow when I leave. As I leave Hadley, I will always continue to help others.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Youth-Led Court Helps Students Make Amends