The Bellevue Youth Court held an open house on Sept. 27. This youth court, one of about 1,500 similar programs throughout the nation provides opportunities for youth aged 11 through 18 to learn about the legal system by filling various roles in passing judgement on criminal cases. Working with the Superior Court of Washington state, BYC receives juvenile cases in which the defendant has already admitted guilt. Acting as judge, jury and attorneys amongst other courtroom positions, participants gain real world experience while also serving the community.
Bellevue’s Family, Youth and Teen Services Manager Helena Stephens explained they are looking for “students from a lot of different backgrounds who are interested in learning about civic responsibility and civic duty.” BYC accepts students from public and private schools as well as homeschooled students who they hope will be “able to listen to what a young person has to say about whatever their actions have been, and whatever spurred that on, and to make really good decisions about that.” The first training session for this year will be on Oct. 11. Those interested in participating must contact Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org and submit an interest form at City Hall.
Under the guidance of legal and civic professionals, students are trained to develop their public speaking and critical thinking skills while learning the intricacies of the justice system. Judge Suzanne Parisien of the Washington Superior Court said that they are “being exposed to the exact same concepts, the exact same things that are happening in our country on a very grand scale.” Addressing the crowd of students at the open house, she said that participants of this program will become the policy makers, lawyers, voters and community activists of the future.
“These issues that you folks are working on here at a smaller level are the same things you’re going to see throughout your life, and we’re relying on you to have good judgement,” said Parisien.
City Councilman Conrad Lee added that “many young people who started off as offenders have changed their negative behaviors, have gone on to become volunteers and gained meaningful employment and several youth who started out as volunteers have entered into law school.” He added that BYC has community support and is helping teach civic responsibility to students. “The city of Bellevue is proud to partner with King County Superior court in order to reduce the number of youth in our juvenile justice system,” he said. “So as you can see, the program here is wonderful,”
Kira Bloomfield, a high school junior and one of five students returning to the program this year, has participated in BYC since seventh grade. She said “I love it, I want to be a lawyer so I love this program with my heart and soul.”
Students not only receive training, responsibility and an opportunity to form lasting relationships with their mentors through BYC, but are also credited for their community service towards the 40 hours needed for high school graduation. After the training session on Oct. 11, BYC will receive their court cases for the year and the students will start to apply what they’ve learned at sessions scheduled for the fourth Tuesday of each month.