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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Judge Steve Walker on the 10 p.m. KENS-5 News, 9-21

By KENS-5 Reporter Joe Conger

President Obama's portrait hangs to their left. President Reagan on their right. And in between the two sits Judge Steve Walker (photo) presiding from a courtroom bench that towers several feet above the teenagers who face him.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, call it “kids’ court” in Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2. Judge Walker sees about a thousand students a year in his courtroom on those days.

The children, busted for being truant, represent more than 12-thousand days of skipped school.

Judge Walker said, "Most of these students that come into my courtroom, I'd say 95% of them, I will never see again. They turn it around, go back to school, and walk the stage for their diploma or their GED."

On this particular day, they come from Lanier High School, Lee High School, Lowell and Longfellow Middle Schools, and even some elementary schools.

Why so many so early in the school year? Walker said because these are students whose cases are left over from last year.

Student Oscar Martinez said he missed a lot of school. That may be an understatement. The 9th grader missed a quarter of a year, he says, all over the charms of a girl.

"Like, 90 something days," Martinez said.

Martinez isn't getting the book thrown at him. Instead, he's going to have to crack the books. He and the others are testing out a law, new this year, that's been adopted in Judge Walker's court.

It allows judges to assign tutoring time as punishment, to replace the traditional service hours.

"Yes, they can pick up trash, but they are going to learn more from the tutoring. And the schools have the facilities to give them the tutoring and get them on their way," said Walker.

Problems at home had Aaron Ayala skipping school. Aaron chose social studies for his tutoring hours. Not because that's what he's failing in school though; his mom said the straight-A student may end up using his tutoring time to do a little teaching of his own.

"I'm actually looking forward to the tutoring because maybe he can help the other students who need some help. That will give him an opportunity to be challenged in a different way," said Aaron’s mother, Selena Ruffo.

Judge Walker was instrumental in revamping disciplining students in Precinct 2, making book reports and library cards mandatory "punishments" for kids caught in the system.

"It did help, showing me there's a different path than being cool by leaving school. But the real money is in the education that you want," said Chris Rodarte, a 12-year old who said he ended up in court after fighting with a student who taunted him.

Rodarte said he learned his lesson, and won’t be returning to face Judge Walker.

As a former school teacher, Walker believes mandatory tutoring is the next logical step, in getting truant kids what they need to achieve.

"I tell them you are going to get tutoring. Then, I ask them, 'what's your worst subject? You tell me, you get to choose.' Them choosing makes it easier, because they're buying into it by saying 'I want to take math. I want to take science.' Okay, your choice," said Walker.

Editor's Note: Copy from the 10 p.m. story September 21st on Tutoring in Judge Steve Walker 's JP2 Court. Click and look for "San Antonio's Truancy Court: Throws the book at em."

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