Middle and high school students sentenced a young man Wednesday night to 35 hours of community service for having broken into Yorktown High School, damaging property and stealing $150 from a teacher’s desk.
That was not a real-life case.
It was a mock trial they presented to friends and family during Yorktown Youth Court graduation ceremony, but they will soon take on real-life court cases prosecuting other teens.
Twenty-four students graduated from the Youth Court training program on Wednesday and received their certificates, after having learned about the various aspects of the law over the last six weeks.
During the training program by Alliance for Safe Kids, the students put on a series of different hats — judge, defense attorney, and prosecutor — and were required to act out a proceeding.
The young professionals will be putting into action what they’ve learned as they deal with children under the age of 16 who have been found guilty of misdemeanors or violations.
“When you make a ruling, you try to do the right thing,” said Jeff Naft, a 17-year-old Yorktown High School junior who also acted as a judge during the mock trial. “But when you’re a kid, you get to put yourself in the defendant’s shoes, which helps you make the best ruling possible.”
He said he heard his friends talk about the program and he too wanted to become part of it. He said they could make an impact in another teen’s life when they make a fair ruling.
Meagan Hopkins, a 16-year-old Lakeland High School student said it had been a fun process to go through the training program. She said she aspires to be a medical examiner and wanted to gain knowledge of the judicial system, something that is needed to testify in real-life cases.
“We all have our roles in our democracy and our civil rights mean nothing without the rigurous defense and the arguments for them made in the court of law,” Yorktown supervisor Michael Grace told the young professionals. “I’m looking at my competition and I wish you all luck. It’s a great program.”
Yorktown Lt. Robert Noble also congratulated the students for taking the time and effort to go through the program. He told family and friends in attendance of the graduation ceremony that they’re looking at their future leaders.
“You guys are getting to learn leadership, the law, public speaking and you guys will become the pillars of our community,” Assemblyman Steve Katz told the students.
Evelyn Bisaccia, whose 14-year-old son Joseph graduated from the program, said the kids were gaining important skills they could apply in their lives.
“The program is a great,” she said. “It gives the kids an appreciation for the law and it gives them a chance to present themselves in a professional light.”
The Yorktown Youth Court was established in 2007 as part of an effort to steer teens who have committed crimes like disorderly conduct, trespassing, or petty larceny in the right direction at an early age.
The Westchester County Department of Probation and the Yorktown Police Department will be working in collaboration to decide which local cases would be best suited for the Yorktown Youth Court graduates to deal with.
Training is held periodically throughout the year and applicants are accepted year-round. The key goals that volunteer members are taught are respecting the rights of peers, enhanced civic knowledge, responsibility and confidentiality.
Local officials in attendance of the graduation were Yorktown supervisor Michael Grade, councilman Vishnu Patel, county legislator Michael Kaplowitz, state assemblyman Steve Katz and town justice Gary Raniolo. Yorktown detective Brian Shanahan, Yorktown Lt. Robert Noble, school resource officer Brian Mundy, as well ASK president Tricy Cushner and executive director Lisa Tomeny offerred encouragement to the kids.
“This really truly is a community collaborative effort,” Alliance for Safe Kids executive director Lisa Tomeny said as she thanked everyone who has been involved with the program. “We couldn’t do it without the time and the dedication of the people who are involved with this and provide on a year to year basis.”
Below is the list of graduates (from both the Yorktown and Lakeland school districts)
|Justin Ballesteros||Justine Ballesteros||Steven Besterman||Andrew Besterman|
|Dominique Bisaccia||Joey Bisaccia||Cristina Cioffi||Matthew Corrado|
|Theo Coutsouros||Caroline Cushner||Wade Cushner||Nick DiGuglielmo|
|Andrew Greene||Meagan Hopkins||Jesse Horowitz||Marisa Molea|
|Madeline Murphy||Aidan Murphy||Jeff Naft||Conor O’Meara|
|Alida Palevic||Nicholas Rolle||Aaron Schumer||Nicole Tolli|
Yorktown Youth Court is a program developed and directed by the Alliance for Safe Kids. P.O. Box 106, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598. For more information, call 914-736-1450.