Middle school students at are doling out their own form of justice through a new Peer Court program.
The school has transitioned to a K-8 campus, and this year, sixth through eighth graders can serve as jurors for other students who’ve been suspended for bullying, fighting and disrupting class.
“It’s peers holding peers accountable, but with a positive result,” said Lisa LoBue, program director for the nonprofit Healthy Novato, which helped bring Peer Court to the school.
The program began this year, and the court has already held four trials. LoBue said it will eventually spread to all middle and high schools in Novato.
The nine-person jury consists of students from the school. It’s a mix of high-achieving students chosen because of their good behavior, and students who are serving community service hours because of their own offenses.
Jurors create whatever consequences they decide will deter their fellow students from misbehaving again, LoBue said. Someone who’s been disruptive in class might have to stay after school to help a teacher in the classroom, or a student might be asked to write an apology letter to someone he's hurt.
The “restorative justice” approach puts young people in a position of responsibility, and gives offenders a chance to restore their place in the school community, LoBue said.
Peer Court is meant to “make a change in how young people behave at school” and also in the community.
“Our hope is that as this keeps going and we start having a presence on campuses ... that we won’t have to do these as often,” LoBue said.
The idea came from Don Carney of the YMCA, who oversees Marin County’s Youth Court, an early intervention program for first-time misdemeanor offenders.
Peer Court is part of a far-reaching plan by the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth and Healthy Novato to curb underage drinking and risky behavior in Novato, LoBue said.
The coalition includes individuals from the community, as well as organizations such as the , the and the . They sponsor programs like Friday Night Live, in which young people work together to promote a positive social environment in Novato.
Debbie Hanks teaches eighth grade at Hamilton and said the students really step up and run Peer Court themselves.
“It’s just wonderful to see them taking ownership for this program,” she said. “Today, this is just a really exciting way to be moving as far as discipline.”
Let us know what you think of the "restorative justice" approach to discipline in the schools by adding a comment below. For more information about Peer Court, call Lisa LoBue at 415-312-8677.