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Bar News - May 23, 2008

Teens Learn Whatís Fair and Just


Mary-Beth Huston wants to be a lawyer when she grows up, and Thursday she and her classmates got a little bit of practice.

Stephanie Zywien, an Andover, Mass., attorney, visited the eighth-grade Spirit team at Timberlane Regional Middle School on March 27. She helped students come up with appropriate punishments for a series of fictional criminals. Students met in groups and read scenarios about teenagers their age, who were starting to go down the wrong path.

Together, students decided how to straighten out the characters, like "Adam Smith." He was cutting school and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Mary-Beth, 14, of Sandown had a punishment she thought would teach Adam the lesson he needed ó detox, drug counseling, probation and handcuffing him to his desk at school.

But Courtney Simmons, 14, of Plaistow thought the punishment was too harsh.

"I donít want to scar him for life," Courtney said.

"He needs to be traumatized to make sure he doesnít do it again," Mary-Beth countered.

A lawyerís request for punishment has to be logical, Mary-Beth said. Thatís why she thought handcuffing her criminal to the desk would teach him a lesson that he would be handcuffed somewhere else if he didnít start going to school.

The purpose of Thursdayís activity was for students to learn from Zywien what "fair and just" punishments are for situations the students could relate to, according to teacher Christine Paradis.

The team was given hardcover copies of "Leapholes" by James Grippando, activities surrounding the book, and Zywienís visit.

At first, some studentsí punishments were too easy, Paradis said. But soon they jumped to the other end of the spectrum. Morgan Carrigan, 13, of Plaistow and Taylor Semenetz, 13, of Atkinson wanted to send the same fictional character to juvenile detention for two and a half months, then to lots of rehabilitation and counseling.

"Itís a little harsh," Zywien said. "Most juveniles donít get committed for their first crime. What about strict probation that requires him to go to school?"

Together, the students and the lawyer talked about making perfect attendance a requirement for the frequently truant boy to give him a chance.

But, if he violated the probation and missed a day of school, it was straight to juvenile hall, Morgan said

This article first appeared in the March 30 issue of The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and is reprinted with permission.

Editorís Note: The original article stated that the Leapholes Program was funded by a NH Bar Foundation Grant Program applied for by teachers. The grant was applied for, and awarded to, the NHBA Law Related Education Program, not individual school teachers.

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