Howard W. Bishop Middle School invited justice system officials Thursday to discuss the justice process with students to encourage transparency and a relationship with the community.
Students circulated through conversations with different speakers in the school’s media center. They had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues with two judges, a representative from the NAACP, a public defender, a representative from teen court and a sergeant from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
Shravana Ogle, a seventh grade civics teacher and the organizer of the event, said she is currently teaching students about the justice system and wanted to deviate from the class’ traditional activity of visiting the courthouse. She said that inviting the speakers would give the students a more personal opportunity to learn about the justice system and interact with those involved.
“I do hear some concern with students over justice or questions they may have or things that they share, and so I think it’s a way for them to get to talk to people who are key players in justice, not just read or hear about it in the news,” Ogle said. “They actually get to talk to the people who are making important decisions, and they can hear how those decisions are made or what rights they have.”
Ogle said she hopes the event will build connections between the students, justice, empowerment and the community. In addition to the justice system, the event focused in part on African-American leaders and issues.
“The idea is to build community, to see who key players are in social justice, to see how the justice system works so that students are aware that justice is happening,” she said. “If it’s not, they know ways they can obtain it, or they know the rights they have and groups that can support them.”
She also said she hopes some students feel inspired by the event and want to pursue future careers in the legal system. Brendan Mavin, a seventh-grader who attended the event, said he was interested.
“I might want to be a lawyer because one of my cousins is a lawyer, and also I know I can help people,” Mavin said. “Some people, I know they need to be in jail because it’ll affect the world if they are in jail.”
Madison Starling-Martin, another seventh-grader in attendance, said she had previously considered a career in the legal system.
“Today, they made me think a little bit more about it because being a lawyer or being a judge is really important to some people,” Starling-Martin said.
Both Starling-Martin and Mavin said they learned a lot about the importance of justice system professions and the kind of responsibilities these jobs entail.
“They expressed different things like how the job is, it can be stressful,” Starling-Martin said. “They try not to make mistakes, you can’t cut corners, you can’t take shortcuts, you have to do it all the way.”
Sgt. Paul Pardue, racial and ethnic disparities coordinator and sergeant over the youth and community resource unit, spoke with students at the event. He said this type of outreach is extremely important to the community.
Pardue said transparency helps law enforcement officials have the best relationship possible with citizens. He said explaining the actions of law enforcement officials to citizens while also teaching them their rights helps create mutual understanding.
“The truth is we’re not lawyers, we’re guardians, we’re the ones that need to be standing shoulder to shoulder and tackling these problems together,” Pardue said, “and if you don’t know how we do our jobs and what to expect from us then there’s no trust, and if you don’t have trust, you’re not going to accomplish anything.”
Pardue said in Alachua County and Gainesville, law enforcement officials have a great relationship with citizens, despite negative relationships that persist in other places. He said programs like the one at Howard Bishop help teach kids early on that the justice system exists to support citizens.
“If we can get those positive interactions as many times as we can with the kids to teach them about what we do, they can also help educate their parents, but that also takes away that mystery that we’re not just the person that’s there to take them away,” Pardue said. “We gotta debunk that type of thinking and keep it real with our folks.”