Lakeridge Middle School students go to court
Lakeridge Middle School students recently got a glimpse into their future — if they end up on the wrong side of the law, that is. Students toured a variety of justice system-related buildings in downtown Portland last week thanks to the Classroom Law Project nonprofit organization.
Eighth grade social studies in Lake Oswego focuses on the development of the U.S. government for much of the class, according to Lakeridge Middle School eighth grade social studies teacher David Finkelman. "This includes learning about the ideas of rule of law and due process and how the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, works," Finkelman said. "We stress the idea that these concepts are not just historical or theoretical, but very real and current."
Students were led by Dean Vrooman, a volunteer for the Classroom Law Project. "I enjoy doing something for the community, and I think this is a great program," he said. "I wish it was required for all students."
Classroom Law Project is dedicated to helping students to become active, engaged and informed participants in democratic society. It is made up of individuals, educators, lawyers and civic leaders building strong communities by teaching students to become active citizens.
The eighth graders first toured parts of the Gus Solomon Federal Courthouse, which served as Portland's federal courthouse until 1977. Now, it's often used for movies, according to Vrooman.
After visiting a courtroom in the Gus Solomon Courthouse, students and their chaperones walked a few blocks to the Multnomah County Justice Center, where they watched arraignments. "At an arraignment, the state is required to tell you what you are charged with," Vrooman explained to the students. "Then the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty."
As the students shuffled through the halls of the Justice Center, one student remarked to her friend, "It's really cool to see all of the stuff happening behind the scenes."
Vrooman said he enjoys giving courthouse tours because of the impact it can have on students. "Kids get really excited about it. Some kids want to become lawyers or go into the law after going on one of these tours, and it's really cool to think that I had some part in that."
After a visit to the Justice Center, students headed to their final destination: the Multnomah County Courthouse. Here, student groups and their chaperones were free to wander the courthouse and choose from a variety of scheduled hearings.
One group wound up in front of Judge Kathleen Dailey, who was presiding over "STOP Court," which is short for Multnomah County Sanctions Treatment Opportunities Progress Drug Court. STOP Court has been an option since 1991 for many people who are charged in Multnomah County with a felony drug possession crime. The objective of STOP Court is to significantly reduce drug abuse within the community.
Dozens of students filed into Judge Dailey's courtroom, taking their seats among drug offenders soon to stand in front of the judge. Dailey's compassion for the defendants was evident. "All you can do is your best," she said to a man struggling to stay clean from methamphetamine and heroin, even asking everyone the courtroom to applaud him for his efforts.
"I think students walk away with a much stronger appreciation of what challenges people who are dealing with addition face from employment, staying clean and sober, getting treatment, housing," Finkelman said. "I think they are surprised how the judges are often not finding someone guilty or innocent, but people who are trying to help with the power that the law gives them."
Other students visited the courtroom of Judge Karin J. Immergut, who was overseeing a hearing in a second degree assault case. The defendant, who was charged with intentionally running someone over with her car, was visibly shaken as she sat in a jail uni-
After the hearing, Judge Immergut, who has an eighth grade daughter, took some time to explain the hearing to the students and give them some advice. "The defendant is only twenty years old, she smoked marijuana every day and she dropped out of high school," she said. "So, please stay away from marijuana and stay in school. I don't want to see any of you in my courtroom."
For more information on Classroom Law Project, organizing a courthouse tour or volunteering, visit www.classroomlaw.org.
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