Judge speaks to students about government

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, June 10, 2021

This week, eighth-grade students at Robert D. Campbell Junior High School have taken part in a program that not only informs them on the inner workings of the government, but also how their voice matters in today’s society.

Called the Robert D. Campbell Congressional Academy, the program is funded through the Aspire grant from the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation. For the previous three years, Campbell students have learned about each branch of the government, and spoke to individuals who’ve made an impact on those branches.

This year, the program focused on the judicial branch, with students visiting the Muhammad Ali Center to learn about Clay v. United States; meeting Vietnam protester Mary Beth Tinker and the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines trial; and spoke with Judge Earl-Ray Neal, of the Division 3 District Court for Clark and Madison counties.

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“When they think about the court system, a lot of kids think about the supreme court. They don’t realize that the court that effects their lives the most on a daily basis are the local and district courts, because they make many more rulings than the supreme court that impacts their lives. It’s teaching the kids that you don’t have to be an elected official to make your community a better place,” said Tony Mann, eighth grade social studies teacher at Campbell. He and fellow social studies educators Grace Hannon and Elizabeth Willoughby all serve as coordinators for the program.

“The results have been fantastic. Already from the group of the first year of the program, we’ve had kids apply and get accepted into the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship through Transylvania University. It’s also helped students a ton with understanding their AP classes,” Mann continued.

Judge Neal visited the students on Thursday morning, relaying his 26 years of legal experience, along with general life experience.

“When you see me in court, it is my hope you have no idea what my political party is,” said Neal. “We ain’t appointing Jesus Christ as your local judge.

There’s not one in this world who hasn’t made a mistake – that’s what makes you human. But our job as a judge is to put our biases aside and uphold the constitution.”

Neal also urged children to not base their life on money alone. He explained that, while he made a very good salary when he was a lawyer, he had to work seven days a week.

“ I missed out on time that should have been spent with my family,” Neal said.

The Congressional Academy is an elective program students can choose to take part in. It takes place over one summer week, and all who participate are gifted $200 each.

Next year, the program will focus on the legislative branch of government.