The following is an interview with Marcelina Kubica, one of the youth activists who helped plan the Youth Leadership and Activism Conference.
Can you tell me about the positions you hold in the community, how you are involved?
The top thing would be Peer Court. I’m also an officer in National Honor Society, we do projects out in the valley.
Why did you start getting involved with Peer Court?
A friend told me about the program my first year of high school. It sounded really interesting, but it was too late to start that year. At the end of the year I did the interviews and I kept on volunteering throughout my high school life.
The idea behind Salt Lake Peer Court is we volunteer and kids come from throughout the Salt Lake area and you have to go through an application and interview process and you have to go through training. There are hearings every Monday night at the Matheson Courthouse. And we have youth that are referred to us from Salt Lake City schools and it’s not just high school students, we take middle and elementary students. We see everything from truancy, to tobacco, to bullying. What will happen is that they come and we speak to them as 7 peers, and that’s why we call it peer court. They come in with their parents and we discuss what occurred. There is this idea of let’s not just punish you, let’s see what the issue is and then after discussing with just the student and just the parent, we sit down and as a panel write a contract. The contract usually consists of community service and panel duty, which is coming and being one of the panelists with us. But also we have a lot of connection to services in the community and in the valley and we try to get students involved in the community. What I found is that a lot of the problems come from societal pressures and it’s about getting them involved in the community.
What is the school-to-prison pipeline?
The school-to-prison pipeline is the fact there are these zero-tolerance policies within our schools. We have these policies set forth and we don’t have anything in schools to work with kids. Any offense for example, writing on a desk, they get suspended or expelled and they aren’t talked to and there is never a discussion, “what’s going on, do you need any help” and because of this, these kids are more likely to drop out and never come back to school. After that there is a very high likelihood of them going into the criminal justice system. That’s why it is called the pipeline to prison, because these schools are pushing them out rather than working with them.
What most concerns you about this issue?
The fact that it is targeting at-risk youth. As a child, my parents were always there for me and they had jobs that they could come home after-school and help me with homework and do art projects with me. A lot of kids don’t have this. Students with parents who don’t have this, and especially those who have recently migrated, who don’t have that support because their parents work 2 jobs, the school should provide that support and keep them away from negative environments. It is just disturbing that these students who are already at a disadvantage, the school only worsens it. School should be there from the beginning to be able to work with them, keep them in a safe environment, and nurture them instead of eventually kicking them out. It’s the fact that the students who are disadvantaged don’t get another chance. The school system should be giving them another chance.
Why did you want to get involved with organizing the Youth Leadership and Activism Conference?
I wasn’t really exposed to personal stories until I wrote my op-ed. For me it’s stats and personal stories that make me really passionate about something. So when I found out about this issue, how prevalent it was, but how few people knew about it and didn’t know this was an issue that made me want kids from the community and in the valley to know about it. Because that’s the first step: knowing about it, right?
What was your favorite part of the conference?
Nubia [Pena’s] presentation. She not only brings this personal perspective as a drop out herself, she engaged everyone to feel this personal connection to the issue. Especially at the end and she had us all cup our hands and she said that she saw all of this power. I don’t know, as a youth, it’s not something we say to people. We don’t say “ I recognize you ,and I support you, and I think you’re a powerful person, and I respect you,” that was powerful.