Order in the Youth Court

STA students serve on the Kansas City Youth Court to gain experience in a real court room.

by Tierney Flavin, Features Editor

Sophomore Danni Haley spends at least two hours every month sitting in the UMKC Law School courtroom. But she sits behind the bench as a judge. 

Haley does so through the Kansas City Youth Court: a program that allows metro area teens to sit in on, adjudicate, defend and weigh in on real court cases of other teens. 

For students like Haley and senior Sydne Sylvan, the Youth Court has helped narrow in on career opportunities for the future. Sylvan was interested in participating when she received an email from STA associate principal Liz Baker with information about the Court. Having previously expressed interest in the law, Sylvan completed the online application complete with short answer responses and a teacher recommendation. 

In actually participating in the Youth Court training — including a shortened version of the Bar Exam — Sylvan’s interest in the law grew as she experienced real-life courtroom scenarios. 

The benefit is for me I get to work with lawyers and judges,” Sylvan said. “I get to learn more about the law.”

Haley went into the Youth Court having done debate at STA, wanting to explore similar extra curricular activities. She has learned, though, that through the law she can help her community. 

“I just love helping people to the full extent,” Haley said. “I feel like I can have empathy for people in understanding that they are kids, just like me.” 

For the community, the Youth Court aims to re-route at-risk youth from juvenile courts and detention programs by using their peers to guide them through a court-like process for minor offenses. 

“For the youth that come in to receive their punishment, the benefit is that they get a second chance to do better instead of going through family courts,” Sylvan said. 

The Youth Court has been operating in Kansas City for 30 years. The students who serve on the court are between the ages of 13-18: the same age as the youth who are facing charges. 

“It’s been shown that [the youth] are less likely to [commit these offenses] again,” Haley said. “[This process is] better because they don’t have to go through the whole process of real courts; instead, they’re talking to other kids face to face.” 

Besides providing real legal experience, the Youth Court introduces its members to other parts of the Kansas City community. 

“I’ve learned to be more empathetic towards other people’s situations,” Sylvan said. “I have learned that not everyone has had a fair chance. Some of the kids go through a lot of situations that a lot of us wouldn’t even like imagining going through.” 

Haley feels like serving on the court has shown her a positive side of the legal system.

“I feel like being able to see different cases and backgrounds makes you wish that people want to help [the youth] and give them better opportunities in life,” Haley said. “We get to try and set them on a good path before they continue these patterns.”

The students who serve on the Youth Court have to experience the hardships of these professions as well. 

“Realizing that, at the end of the day, your words have a really big impact on someone’s life,” Haley said. “I think that’s kind of just like a ‘wow moment’ about the Youth Court”

Haley recommends applying for the Youth Court for anyone interested in law or who wants to serve the greater KC community.

[The Youth Court] gives kids the opportunity to get some experience with what you might do later if you’re interested in law while helping your community,” Haley said. “It has made me more aware of not just my own experience, but realizing this is actually going on in other people’s lives.” 

Applications to the Kansas City Youth Court can be accessed through their section on the UMKC law website.