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Grade Court Excutive Summary
The mission of Grade Court is to work with the Juvenile Justice System and the Education System to reduce recidivism and the number of children committed to institutions by acknowledging the importance of educating youth in the community; and to increase the success and self-esteem of juvenile offenders through the power of hard work and education.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
1. To hold juvenile offenders accountable for their actions and to reinforce the ideal that education is essential for their success.
2. To develop basic tasks such as turning in daily homework and weekly progress reports that holds juveniles accountable for their academic progress, attendance and behavior at school.
3. To provide consistent monitoring of clear and relevant standards with immediate consequences for failure to comply with the conditions of the program such as daily school attendance and turning in daily and weekly progress reports signed by teachers and parents. Failure to comply with these conditions may result in weekend detention, Work Detail, Youth In Progress class, or an alternative sanction such as additional community service or an assigned report.
4. In order to complete the program, juveniles must get "C's" or better on two consecutive nine-week report cards, graduate from High School, or obtain their G.E.D. Each juvenile who successfully completes "Grade Court" is offered a full two-year tuition scholarship at San Juan College.
Grade Court was conceived by Chief District Judge, Paul R. Onuska after many years of unsuccessful attempts at making school performance a primary component of Juvenile Probation Supervision.
Operating from a perspective that education and hard work enhance the chances of success, the Judge included those elements with perseverance as the main ingredients of Grade Court. After graduating from Notre Dame Law School, and working as a prosecutor for eight years, and a District Judge for 14 years, Judge Paul R. Onuska remained unrelenting in attempts to promote reading and education as a priority in rehabilitation.
In the fall of 1996, Judge Onuska met with educators and reading teachers from all districts in San Juan County addressing his vision of Grade Court and the possibility of educators and the court working together to reduce delinquency by promoting education. Judge Onuska then took his concept of personal commitment of hard work and perseverance to the New Mexico Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee who provided funding for the program that allowed for a formal Grade Court to start in January 1997.
In the fall of 1996, the Judge began putting probationers and others on notice that a lack of attendance and a failure to make progress in classes would no longer be tolerated.
District Judge, Byron Caton, also a long time proponent of education, allowed for the initial ground work to be established before including probationers under his jurisdiction to Grade Court in the fall of 1997.
In the beginning, many students questioned the Judge’s commitment to them, the program, and their education. Few believed they would receive consequences for truancy or failing to turn in their daily homework and weekly progress sheets. During the first few months several students were sent to weekend detention and began to learn about responsibility. As students returned to the monthly Grade Court sessions, they began to hear more about the relevance of education to the success they would experience in their life. They began to learn that through “hard work,” they could be successful and improve their grades.
Parents of juveniles are made party to the petition by assuming the responsibility of supervising their children. Violations are exposed quickly and sanctions are enforced immediately. Through these measures, the judicial system is providing 24-hour structure in the community and encouraging discipline and self-esteem in delinquent youth. Parents are also required to complete a parenting class during the time their child is on the program.
Throughout the years, more and more opportunities to increase student success have occurred since the inception of the program, i.e. Summer Reading Program to assist students who are two or more years behind in their reading, tutoring available through the school district, a mentor to assist students and their parents with issues and concerns, parenting classes, a Summer Adventure Challenge Camp sponsored by the Farmington Police Department to teach youth about team work, navigation skills, bike riding, canoeing and rappelling, an Alternative Detention Community Service Work Detail Program sponsored by the San Juan County Detention Center, a Youth In Progress class and any additional
Community Service projects available held one Saturday morning of the month as an alternative to detention.
Today, District Court Judges William Birdsall and Sandra Price conduct two separate Grade Court sessions each per month and carry out the objectives of the Grade Court program. The belief and commitment of one Chief Judge that the Juvenile Justice System and the schools could work together to reduce delinquency by promoting educational success has become a reality.
To date there have been 608 graduates from the program. There are approximately 100 juveniles participating in the program at any given time.
In the fall of 1996, Chief District Judge, Paul R. Onuska went to the New Mexico Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and presented his ideas regarding a Grade Court Program. The Advisory Committee provided the funding for the first formal Grade Court Program in January of 1997.
In July 1998, less than two years since inception, Grade Court was honored with an Achievement Award presented to the 11th Judicial District by the National Court Managers Association at their annual meeting that convened in San Antonio, Texas.
The New Mexico Legislature acknowledged Judge Onuska’s requests and the benefits of Grade Court by funding a full-time Grade Court Administrator position through the regular District Court budget. The Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee continued partial funding of Grade Court in conjunction with the Juvenile Community Corrections Program administered by San Juan County and allowed for more staff. The N.M. legislature demonstrated support by funding three staff positions in July 1999.
In addition, the Grade Court Program is now the strong educational component of the Districts Juvenile Drug Court program and is funded through the Eleventh Judicial Districts general fund.
The College Scholarship Fund is provided by generous donations of a benefactor in the community, whom over the past nine years has donated several thousand dollars on numerous occasions for our Grade Court graduates to be able to attend college.