October 11, 2013 — The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s Kids’ Court program has been honored by the Utah Minority Bar Association (UMBA) with the 2013 Pete Suazo Community Service Award, named in honor of the late state legislator and community leader. Kids’ Court is an afterschool program in which law student volunteers teach fifth- and sixth-grade students from under-served populations about the law and civic engagement through once a week school visits.
“This award goes to a non-lawyer member of the community who serves minority communities. UMBA selected Kids’ Court because of its impact on promoting diversity in the law,” said UMBA President Jesse Nix, a 2010 College of Law graduate. “One of the reasons I became interested in law was my experience playing a lawyer in an elementary school play. When minority kids, who otherwise would not learn about the law at a young age, become interested in the Constitution, learn about civic responsibility, and play a part in a fictionalized legal case, their futures may forever be changed. I hope that Kids’ Court will inspire some kids to go to college, go on to law school, and become leaders in Utah’s legal community.”
Gabriella Archuleta, ‘11, who works in the Immigration Department at Holy Cross Ministries, co-founded the program in 2008. She said she was “humbled and thrilled” when she heard the news that Kids’ Court had won the award. “I looked up to Senator Suazo for all the work he did in the community to create opportunities for youth and advance social justice. It is an honor for Kids’ Court to be recognized for doing the same. It is also incredibly gratifying to know that Kid’s Court is going strong after six years. I am grateful to the SJ Quinney College of Law, and the University of Utah because their institutional support is essential to Kids’ Court’s current and continued success. The Kids’ Court program launched due to the efforts and hard work of several people including Associate Dean Reyes Aguilar, Professor Theresa Martinez who is former Assistant Vice President for Academic Outreach for the University of Utah, Michelle Roybal, who serves as the Supervising Attorney, and the Minority Law Caucus.”
Becca Buchert, Kids’ Court Student Coordinator for 2013-14, said, “In just five academic years, Kids’ Court has had tremendous influence on classroom behavior, academic performance, and goals for higher education among the students that have participated with the Program. Approximately 150 students have graduated from the Kids’ Court Program and one group even met, and interacted with, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts when he made a visit to the College of Law in 2011. The Chief Justice took time during his visit to meet with the elementary children, answer their questions, and encourage them to develop strong reading and writing skills, in addition to thinking well. The Kids’ Court Program fosters these skills.”
Archuleta agrees that the program is already changing participants’ lives: “At the beginning of Kid’s Courts’ third year, one of the Kids’ Court alums showed up to volunteer,” she recalls. “He was at that time a junior high student. He decided on his own that he wanted to be a mentor. He also told us about his plans to attend college and what he was doing in junior high to prepare. He showed up to volunteer nearly every week. I like to think that Kid’s Court inspired him to pursue higher education and to be a leader and mentor.”
For more information on the Kids’ Court program, click here.
For more information on the Utah Minority Bar Association, click here.