BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Mahoning County Juvenile Court recently became one of only four juvenile courts in the nation to receive a big federal grant to help keep kids in school and out of trouble.
Mahoning County Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick explained the $600,000 grant to local school administrators Wednesday morning at a news conference held at the Mahoning County Educational Service Center. It will be used over the next three years to pay for training and other programs to help teachers identify signs of gang activity and other problems before students end up in court or in juvenile detention.
“Research also shows that once you’re down in juvenile court, you get a stigma. And the stigma can be with you forever. You may feel as if you’re a bad kid and once you feel you’re a bad kid, you become a bad kid,” Dellick said.
The Boardman, Austintown and Struthers school districts, along with the Mahoning County High School in Youngstown, will use the grant funds, which were awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Our goal is really to educate students. By educating students, we have a better society. They go on to college, they become productive members, we have less victims, less property damage. It is a win-win for everybody,” Dellick said. “Why do we really want to be always chasing the tail of the dog? Let’s get the dog.”
In the years following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, school districts around the country started using police to patrol their hallways.
“There was a rush to add security. There was a rush to enforce the law within your schools,” Struthers Superintendent Joe Nohra said.
But local school administrators said recently they are noticing the threats are more internal, from bullying to gang activity, even if it is not out in the open.
“We know it is there. We know the kids want to belong to something. If they don’t belong to something good, they are going to end up moving into the bad path and belonging to something bad,” Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca said.
“We do have 1,400 teenagers walking out of the high school. So if we think that there is not a possibility, then we are not being honest with our community and our staff,” Boardman Superintendent Tim Saxton said.
One of the goals of the grant is to use police in schools as counselors instead of security guards.
“Many of the students are being written up for what would have commonly been school disciplinary issues and being charged with criminal offenses. And it was a way for the school to not have to do disciplinary efforts,” Dellick said.
She said she believes keeping students out of her court now may keep them out of prison as adults.
According to a news release, Dellick’s grant application “addresses the serious gang problem and the resulting delinquency directly linked to gang activity and the growing concern that gang activity is infiltrating many areas in Mahoning County, as evidenced by the recruitment of individuals in neighboring communities, including Austintown, Boardman and Struthers.”
The court also cited in its application that the average age of gang membership is dropping from 18 to 15, and there is an increase in drug sales and usage by juveniles.
“The award is both an acknowledgment by the federal government of the challenges in our community and represents its confidence in our Court to tackle these problems and provide solutions that result in positive changes,” Dellick said in the news release.