When talent meets passion, magical things can happen in the workplace…even when there are unique and sometimes great challenges. Managing programs involving teenagers trying to find their place in the world might be intimidating for most, but for Southlake’s Teen Court Coordinator Dana Kirkland, it’s what she was “meant to do.”
Dana’s love and respect for young people, coupled with meaningful work experience and a quest to get it right, is extraordinary. And the Teen Court program works beautifully as a result.
Dana was a teacher in New Mexico for 26 years before retiring. She taught 4th and 5th grade in general subjects and 6th and 7th grade in Math. In 2016, Dana relocated to the DFW area. She happened to see the job posting for Teen Court Coordinator and immediately pursued and got the job.
She has brought her classroom management, public speaking, and conflict mediation skills to her daily work. Dana is creative and determined and gets the job done, even when circumstances have required her to regroup.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dana went above and beyond to find ways for teens to participate and fulfill their obligations while still learning from their experience. Where a lot of teen courts failed during that time and are no longer functioning, she was able to manage the program and make it successful,” said Kristin McGrail, Municipal Court Manager.
Writing essays was one option for teens to complete service hours. The topics were varied and always thought-provoking, all with the intention of getting the teens to reflect on their choices. Dana has read hundreds of papers in the past two years and has provided valuable feedback to the teens regarding their papers.
Dana does everything she can to make the teen court experience meaningful and enjoyable for everyone involved. Whether cultivating new community service work sites, coordinating training for teen attorneys, or organizing a professional conference, Dana uses her considerable skills to support adolescents as they prepare for adulthood.
For bringing a lifelong passion for education to the job and quietly working each day to make a difference with local teens, Dana Kirkland has been identified as one of the City of Southlake’s Unsung Heroes.
By using a little ingenuity, Metroport Teen Court is still in session despite changes associated with COVID-19.
Teen Court is a voluntary program funded by the cities of Colleyville, Grapevine, Keller, and Southlake that allows teens in middle school or high school the opportunity to keep Class C Misdemeanors off their permanent record. Teen defendants go through a trial before a jury of their peers who then assess community service hours and jury terms for them to complete.
Holding trials for defendants ordered to complete Teen Court by judges from four cities often results in gatherings of over a hundred people at the Southlake Municipal Court building on Tuesday evenings. But now, two challenges are facing Teen Court: how to hold Teen Court trials when gatherings are limited in size and moving existing cases through the program when teens aren’t able to complete traditional community service hours.
With approval from the cities’ respective judges, Dana Falk, the Teen Court Clerk, and Colleen Anson, Office Assistant, have developed some smart ways in which teens can enroll, have their trials heard, and even complete community service at a distance.
Teen Court Changes
The first thing to figure out was how to move forward on current Teen Court cases where sentencing is still required. Instead of performing external community service, teens can now complete essays or poster boards (digital or physical) and submit those items electronically. Additionally, teens can complete online driver safety, anger management, or alcohol and drug courses, in place of performing community service hours. After trial, defendants are also asked to serve on e-juries to fulfill their assigned jury terms.
For new cases coming into Teen Court, teens can now complete an enrollment over the phone with Teen Court staff. After being enrolled, the teen’s trial will consist of an emailed questionnaire comprised of questions typically asked by the jury. Their teen’s answers are then submitted to a jury panel of pre-selected teens to review the defendant’s responses. The jurors will then sentence the teen defendant to community service hours based on those answers.
“We are looking forward to the day that Metroport Teen Court can again be held in person,” said Kristin McGrail, Southlake’s Municipal Court Manager. “But until then, Teen Court will continue to serve our community and our partner cities in the best ways possible.”
The City of Southlake hosted a presentation and awards ceremony on Monday, April 29 in Town Hall to recognize teens and adults for their service and commitment to the Metroport Teen Court program. Metroport Teen Court is a voluntary program and is funded by the cities of Colleyville, Grapevine, Keller and Southlake.
This year, eight individuals received awards for giving their time and expertise to run Teen Court. Two teens who served as teen attorneys for about three years received $1,500 each in scholarships.
Metroport Teen Court allows juvenile, Class C misdemeanor offenders an alternative way to serve community service hours and participate in the judicial process.
The teens will go through a trial before their own peers and will be sentenced with community service hours and jury service to complete.
Metroport Teen Court is not just about judge and jury trials, it is also about learning how the judicial system works and giving back to your community. Other roles teen volunteers serve in Metroport Teen Court are jurors, bailiffs and teen attorneys. The adult volunteers assist with check-in and check-out of volunteers. Adults also serve as courtroom monitors; and with very special training, run master jury rooms or jury deliberation rooms.
“Teen Court is important for a multitude of reasons,” said Teen Court Clerk Dana Falk, “We offer teens an alternative to the regular juvenile court process, where they risk formal prosecution and possible adjudication; it allows teens to make restitution to the community for their violation by way of performing community service. It enables teens to take responsibility for their citation instead of parents paying the fine, and it allows juvenile offenders to better understand our judicial process.”
Upon completion of the program, a teen’s citation is dismissed and they avoid what might have been a stain on their legal record.
“It’s like a second chance for first offenders, and it also teaches kids responsibility,” said Falk. According to Falk, some defendants enjoy the process so much that they come back to volunteer on their own time as jurors or to train as teen attorneys and volunteer that way.
“On any given Tuesday night, we have around five adult volunteers and between 10-30 teen volunteers helping us to run the program,” said Falk,
“Four of the ladies who received recognition come without fail every Tuesday night and either run our master jury rooms or help with check-in at the desk,” She continues. “The Teen Court judge who was recognized has led all of our teen attorney training sessions this year, as well as serving as mentor to one of our competition teams.”
Senior teen attorneys Parker Churns and Cameron Waltz were recognized for their consistency. “We will be sad to lose their expertise after the summer when they go off to school,” said Falk.
The North Richland Hills Animal Adoption and Rescue Center was also recognized for giving teen defendants more hours of community service than any other organization this year.
“We could not provide the current level of service we maintain without these volunteers,” said Falk.
If interested in being a part of the Metroport Teen Court program, please email email@example.com
|Kara Carreras – Judge of the Year, led all training sessions for teen attorneys, mentored a competition team and served as our Advisory Board Chair|
|Linda Lucart – Logged the Most Hours|
|Paityn Main – Logged the Most Hours|
|Scholarship Recipients, Considered to be lead teen attorney and represented Metroport Teen Court on the State Competition Team|
|Parker Churns –$1500|
|Cameron Waltz – $1500|
|Superior Service Award|
|Exceptional Service Award|
|Outstanding Service Award|
|Work Site of the Year|
|NRH Animal Adoption & Rescue Center, gave most hours to defendants|