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Chester Youth Court Program Expands with Help from Swarthmore Students

Chester Youth Court Expands with
Help from Swarthmore Students

by Mariam Zakhary '13

Shilpa Bopanna '11
Shilpa Boppana '11
Swarthmore students led by Shilpa Boppana '11 recently formed Chester Youth Court, a group that hopes to develop and expand the nearby city's existing youth court program. The ultimate goal? To make a difference in the lives of young people.

"Our group hopes to serve as a resource for Chester students by working with them to build skills, provide information about higher education, and support their ideas to strengthen their program and help their peers," says Boppana, a religion and psychology major from Vestavia Hills, Ala. "My hope is that the Swarthmore group will build a strong institutional relationship between the College and youth court programs in Chester and that it will contribute to a discussion about the 'school to prison pipeline' and other racial justice and juvenile justice issues."

Boppana's interest in youth court programs comes from her experience serving as a youth court volunteer in her hometown while she was in high school. She also interned with the Chester Youth Court program last year as a Chester Fellow.

The Chester Youth Court was founded at Chester High School in 2007 by public interest lawyer Greg Volz in order to provide students there with a constructive alternative to suspension and to reduce disciplinary issues within the school. The court is entirely student-run, with students taking roles that can be found in an actual courtroom such as lawyers, bailiffs, clerks, judges - and jurors. The purpose of the sentence is not to suspend or expel but to help the student get back on track instead of punishing them.

Members of the group have attended some of the Chester Youth Court hearings and hope to get to know the students involved to better understand their needs and goals. The group also brought to campus Edgar Cahn '56, a legal scholar and lifelong advocate of using the law to achieve social justice goals, to discuss his experience with the Time Dollar Youth Court in Washington, D.C., which he founded and currently directs. Listen to his talk.        

"I was first introduced to the Chester Youth Courts through a community-based learning component from my Law and Society class," says Daniel Hwang '11, a biology and religion major from Potomoac, Md.  "My time with the program helped me foster a relationship with the kids involved and a passion for supporting their goals and aspirations. With the help of a few very dedicated Swatties and a very wonderful and passionate man, Greg Volz, I am excited to be a part of a group that is really making a difference in the lives of the kids we help."