Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington
I had lunch today with Ben David, the district attorney for Hanover and Pender counties, which includes the Wilmington area. In Suffer the Children we feature David’s terrific work to help children, focusing on two organization he created in Wilmington—Teen Court and the Blue Ribbon Commission for the Prevention of Youth Violence (BRC).
To keep younger teenagers out of the adult correctional system, reduce recidivism, and promote rehabilitation, Teen Court gives first-time, non-violent offenders between the ages of twelve and seventeen the opportunity to admit their guilt and receive a punishment assigned by a jury of their peers—other youth who are primarily volunteers from National Honor Society chapters, Key Clubs, or Boy Scout troops. Youth also serve as the bailiffs, clerks, and attorneys for the proceedings. These juries are charged to determine sentences for the offenders. All defendants must do community service and be jury members in subsequent Teen Court proceedings. Juries can also mandate that defendants write a letter of apology or an essay about their transgression, pay restitution, attend a seminar, or take an online class such as “Shoplifting 101.” Teen Court forces youth to confess publicly that they made a mistake and accept responsibility for their actions. This approach has been very successful as measured by the low percentage of defendants who commit subsequent offenses.
The BRC identified a fifteen-block area on Wilmington’s north side as the community most needing assistance. It marshalled the resources of businesses, churches, and nonprofits to revitalize the community, redesigned its local school, hired an advocate to help neighborhood residents utilize social services, and created a Youth Enrichment Zone (YEZ) Teen Council to enable middle school students to develop leadership skills and serve as role models and mentors for their peers. Council members meet weekly to plan Friday night movies, games and speakers at the local teen center and arrange community service projects
David also speaks annually to about 10,000 students at the thirty middle schools and high schools in the two counties he serves and encourages his forty-five staff to volunteer by giving them time off in exchange for their weekly community involvement. In his speeches, David accentuates personal responsibility, the dangers of drugs, and the destructive effects of bullying. David also tries to meet “at-risk youth where they live” and discusses “choices and consequences” with them “before they get into trouble.”
Since we interviewed him for our book, David worked with Judy Girard, the former president of HGTV, to found The Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW), which opened in the fall of 2016 with 100 sixth grade girls. This single-gender school is modeled after the successful Young Women’s Leadership Schools. A free public charter school, GLOW will add a new grade each year until it offers grades 6-12. Its aim is to prepare students whose parents did not go to college to be admitted to college, graduate from college, and be good citizens. It seeks to provide a learning environment that, according to its website, “nurtures the emotional, physical and academic facets of each student, developing a strong and supportive culture among its faculty, students, their families and the broader community.”