Courtrooms to Classrooms

Updated: Sep 10

By Mark Powell


Good Judgement


A paramedic and social worker with a background in addiction respond to overdose cases at local hospitals and engage individuals before they can flee. People are transported to treatment when needed. An outreach team follows up with those who refuse help.


It’s one of the more memorable sports movie quotes. Borne out of frustration, Jerry Maguire pours his heart into his unreasonable client, Rod Tidwell, and begs, “Help me, help you.” Tidwell responds hysterically, but he gets it, and the partnership blossoms from there.


Five times every school year, all 8th graders in Rowan County hear an important message from a guest speaker that echoes the plea, “Help me, help you.” That’s when Courtrooms to Classrooms is in session. It teaches students how to stay on the right path and the consequences of both bad and good choices.


Between 80 and 100 students at a time are instructed during social studies class. “We bring in a wide variety of speakers,” says Cecil Watkins, Rowan County Attorney. “They include elected officials, people in recovery, and law enforcement. We once heard from a retired law officer who was affected by a drunk driver. We brought in a woman who’s been in recovery for eight years. She told the students, ‘I was a monster, but I turned my life around.’ The students often tell us about people they’d like to hear from, too.”


Repercussions resulting from poor decisions are discussed. Because of that, students also learn the who, what, when, and where of how the judicial system works.


“When we began Courtrooms to Classrooms here in Rowan County 2003, it was believed we were the first middle school in the country to implement it,” Watkins notes. “Now, 16 years later, the high school asked us to bring it there.”


You might be surprised to learn that the curriculum was started by the Coors Brewing Company. Promoters of responsible drinking among adults only, company executives were impacted by the Columbine shooting in 1999, and they wanted to be part of a movement to encourage young people to make good decisions. The former County Attorney William Roberts, who launched the program, won the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Attorney of the Year for this work. Instructors often hear kids say they’ve been impacted negatively by addiction; some come up after class to share how addiction has affected their young lives. A social worker is brought in to explain the resources that are available.


Other topics are addressed as well, including cybersecurity, taking and sharing explicit photos, and vaping. “We just encourage good decision-making,” Watkins says. “The program teaches youth not to be afraid of the law. We tell them, ‘We’re here to help you help yourself.’”


Courtrooms to Classrooms was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.


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J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.

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