Civic Learning Award Inspired More Law-Related Education

August 24, 2017

By Judge David Wesley, Superior Court of Los Angeles and Ms. Susan Nicoletti, teacher at Bellflower High School


There’s something different about going back to school this year at Bellflower High School in Los Angeles County: a new focus on law-related education spurred by the school’s recent Civic Learning Award.

Winning this top honor motivated teachers at Bellflower to ask what more could be done in civics to connect teachers with court leaders. Now Bellflower is collaborating with the Los Angeles Superior Court to establish a youth court, youth court club, and new elective course on the law. As students return to school, they are excited about the new opportunities.

For a busy judge with 25 years of experience with youth courts, I find it inspiring to see how Bellflower’s commitment to civics will create a solid foundation for their youth court, also known as peer court. Getting approval from the school district for the youth court went quickly and smoothly, and teachers and students have already begun to prepare. They visited El Rancho High School to see another peer court in action, and used their summer vacations to participate in training, including the SHADES: Stop Hate and Delinquency by Empowering Students conference.

For an experienced social studies teacher, I find that the new youth court and law-related efforts work perfectly with the school’s aim of preparing students for college, career, and civic life. Students who participate will sharpen valuable skills such as critical thinking, reading, and listening. And students will also learn about law-related careers, from court interpreters to attorneys to bailiffs.

This veteran teacher and veteran judge are looking forward to the new school year. They have discovered that by working together they can help students see themselves as part of the solution – not the problem – and create hope for the future.

Susan Nicoletti is a teacher at Bellflower High School, which earned the Civic Learning Award of Excellence in 2016.  The Civic Learning Award recognizes schools for the depth and breadth of their civics education, and identifies models that can be replicated in other schools.

Hon. David Wesley is a judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, and president of the California Association of Youth Courts. Youth courts seek to reduce recidivism by giving students charged with a misdemeanor the option of having their case heard by a jury of student peers overseen by a judge.