KINGMAN - Scotty Winder's hand popped up repeatedly with questions Tuesday as he absorbed information about the possible consequences of his actions during the second day of Teen Law School at Kingman High School.
"I knew almost none of this stuff," said Winder after class. "I was very surprised. What you don't know really can hurt you. I've learned things here that will help me stay out of trouble."
While Winder already knew that Kingman has a curfew, he wasn't aware that the time changed slightly during the weekend. While other cities allow more leeway for older youth, Kingman's curfew is 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday for anyone 17 years old and under, making it one of the strictest in the state.
Winder, 14, a freshman at the school, was one of about 250 ninth-graders participating in Teen Law School, an eight-day program taking place during the students' health and physical education classes. Topics include the rules at school and Arizona laws related to "The Six D's: Drinking, Driving, Drugs, Dating, Digital Drama and Dumb Stuff."
Teen Law School is an educational organization, founded in 2009 by a community activist and mother, dedicated to helping teens make safer, law-abiding choices so they can hold on to their freedom, personal liberties and future aspirations. Kingman High School is the first public school in Arizona to invite the program into its classrooms. It has been taught in Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City since 2012 to court-referred youth.
Participants covered topics such as peer pressure, crimes and consequences, school rules and rights, truancy, citizenship, state laws on alcohol, DUI and drugged driving, drug risks, domestic violence, sexting, harassment and distracted driving. They also heard from students who have broken laws, a local prosecuting attorney with juvenile experience and the school's resource officer.
McKell Oldbull, 17, a senior at KHS, was one of those speakers, telling participants that she got kicked out of school during her sophomore year for drinking alcohol on campus and was sent to alternative school.
She returned for her junior year and was chosen as part of a 30-member test group last fall for the course. She now speaks to students and staff about her experience and how it changed her.
"I learned from law school about what happens if you commit a crime and the freedoms you can lose," said Oldbull. "I also discovered my career goal, which is to be a juvenile counselor. If kids are in the system, they've already done something bad, and I want to help them stay out of trouble. This is an excellent program and I love it because it turned my life around."
During the class, Fudge discussed truancy, for which Arizona has the toughest laws in the nation. Students must stay in school until they are 16 years old and have 90 percent attendance or they and their parents can be arrested. A student becomes a habitual truant when they have missed classes five times without notifying their school.
The top offense teens are arrested for in Arizona is shoplifting, said Fudge, with more girls getting caught because they shoplift in groups and draw attention to themselves. Boys are sneakier and shoplift larger items, although batteries are their targets of choice. Another common offense is car hopping, or stealing money and items from open cars.
For instance, said Fudge, say two boys are looking for open car windows in a store parking lot while two girls are serving as lookouts. In the first vehicle, they find $20, and in the second car, they discover a laptop worth $2,500. The third car yields a handgun under the front seat, which the teens believe they can sell. If they are caught, said Fudge, all the teens - including the girls - could be looking at up to 16 years in prison for one night's fun.
"I understand clearly that these kids don't have a clue," said Fudge. "No matter how sophisticated they think they are, they just don't realize the impact of their behavior. These classes open their eyes to the things they do that can and will hurt them. I'm not going to keep every kid in the room out of trouble, but I want this course to be the voice they hear in the back of their minds in tempting situations."