On Friday, June 17, high school students from Central Gwinnett and South Gwinnett High schools met with local judges as part of S.M.I.L.E. (Summer Mentoring in Legal Education) Gwinnett. A panel of Recorder’s Court judges, a Magistrate Court judge, a State Court judge, and a Superior Court judge, all from the Gwinnett Circuit, spent over an hour discussing their legal careers and the law with students eager to learn about the legal profession. The students were given the opportunity to ask questions and peppered the judges with questions about their legal backgrounds and various legal issues.
State Court Judges Pam South and Joe Iannazzone initiated the S.M.I.L.E. Gwinnett program this spring with the assistance of teacher Rebecca Streetman, program specialist for law, public safety, corrections and security at South Gwinnett High School, and attorney Dana Pagan, a former teacher at Central Gwinnett High School and now a Gwinnett County assistant solicitor. Students applied for the program and were selected in April. The program encompasses six themed presentations and a graduation ceremony, all in the months of June and July.
The program takes place at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, the County courthouse in Lawrenceville, where students have attended sessions in courtrooms. The program kicked off June 3 with a “lunch with lawyers” event for the students sponsored by the Gwinnett Bar Association. On June 10, the students attended a program on constitutional law and a presentation on the legislative process by state Sen. P.K. Martin, who also spent time telling the students about the Georgia legislature’s page program. The teenagers have become familiar with the courthouse, touring areas including the holding cells and the law library.
Students are looking forward to a tour of the county jail and additional programs on the new accountability courts programs and social media issues for teens. The program will end with a reception for students and parents, where students will make presentations regarding their summer experiences in the legal field.
Judge Stacey Hydrick of DeKalb County State Court began a summer mentoring program for high schoolers several years ago in Decatur, and Judges South and Iannazzone embraced the idea for Gwinnett County high school students. The program is offered at no cost to the students and is staffed by volunteers. Program leaders are hopeful for a successful first year, with plans to expand the program in the future.