The students at the Sarah Heinz House hold their heads up high today as they walk into the gymnasium. On the far end of the gym the preamble is written using makeshift license plates from all fifty states. Sitting in two rows in front of this display are representatives from the mayor’s office, recent law school graduates, members of the federal courts and Pittsburgh City Council. After the students give an impressive recitation of the preamble from heart, Judge Joseph Williams steps up and speaks of community and restorative justice. The middle schoolers follow along with their heads nodding. Such phrases are familiar to the students at the Sarah Heinz House, in class and in conversation you can hear them spout out words like “punitive” and “penal.”
Over the last few weeks, judicial community members have been helping Sarah Heinz House learn about the constitution and aiding the students in the formation of their own youth court. Youth Court is a student run court that focuses on rehabilitation and the restoration of balance through communication and working together rather than punishment. Not only does this approach give the students a chance to discuss their side instead of just getting detention as Amira in eighth grade points out it is “Giving the students a way they can lead and teaching them how to become leaders.”
After some of the community members speak, three of the eighth graders present the Constitution the middle schoolers wrote together. When the motion to ratify is presented to the school, not not a single student seemed tempted to say “Nay”… even in jest.
Keep your eyes and ears out for a story on NPR featuring Constitution Day at Manchester Academic Charter School.