New Mexico Junior Judges Make Smart Choices
By Georgene Louis
Georgene Louis is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and the state gaming representative for the New Mexico Gaming Control Board in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The State Bar of New Mexico’s Young Lawyers Division (NMYLD) is one very active affiliate. Among its many achievements, the NMYLD implements six public service projects throughout the year, including three ABA YLD or YLD-related special projects. One of NMYLD’s successful projects this year was the implementation of “Junior Judges: Helping Kids Make Smart Choices.”
The “Junior Judges” program provides a video and teaching curriculum consisting of seven real-life scenarios for third, fourth, and fifth graders to judge what options they have in tough situations and encourage them to make smart choices. The topics include cheating, destroying property, bullying, teasing, stealing, drugs and alcohol, and gangs and weapons. Through the participation of NMYLD volunteers, the “Junior Judges” program answers questions that help children make smart choices during their grade school years.
The 2007–2008 academic year was the third year that the NMYLD participated with Albuquerque Public Schools to implement the “Junior Judges” service program. The NMYLD reached out to all members of the New Mexico State Bar to assist with the implementation. The number of volunteers, as well as school demand for the program, has been steadily increasing. This year, the NMYLD recruited twenty-six attorney volunteers, including a federal court judge, a children’s court judge, and a state court judge. The volunteers worked with sixteen schools to bring the “Junior Judges” program into approximately 100 classrooms.
NMYLD volunteers choose the topic on which they would like to concentrate based on the age of the students, hot topic issues, and/or issues that may be particularly important to the volunteers. Student participation is highly encouraged by the NMYLD volunteers. Some volunteers have devised creative ways to persuade student participation by offering points for competitions to motivate students to really think about the issues and come up with “smart” answers.
Many students instinctively want to make the “smart” choice but may be faced with peer pressure to make the “cool” choice instead. The program tries to teach that the popular choice is not always the best choice or the choice that will keep students out of trouble. New Mexico attorney Martha Chicoski, Chair of the NMYLD’s “Junior Judges” program, indicated that the most common question asked by the students is how they can make smart choices but still be liked by their friends and peers.
Through the implementation of the “Junior Judges” program, the NMYLD also creates an outlet through which attorneys can provide a service within their communities. Chicoski stated that many volunteers become repeat volunteers with the program because they enjoy interacting with the students and believe in the program’s message. The success of the program is also demonstrated by the increasing number of requests for NMYLD volunteers to implement the service program in more schools every year. In addition, volunteers often receive thank-you letters from students and teachers they have visited. Because the “Junior Judges” program has been a big success, the NMYLD plans to continue its implementation and is optimistic that even more young lawyer volunteers will visit schools and students in the future.