Project LEAD Graduates First Two Classes In The Municipality Of Loíza
Elementary School Jobos and Middle School Jesusa Vizcarrondo Graduate 20 Students
SAN JUAN, P.R (STL.News) In December of 2020, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico began a 20-week school curriculum with students from 5th and 8th grades to teach them about the criminal justice system and the importance of making good decisions. The curriculum included techniques to help students resolve conflicts and resist peer pressure. Assistant United States Attorney Kelly Zenón Matos was in charge of the Project.
Project LEAD (Legal Enrichment And Decision-making) was established in 1993 by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Its goal is to teach children that the choices they make today can affect their lives forever. Through an agreement between the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico, the program was translated for the first time into the Spanish language. In addition, the USAO was allowed to tailor Project LEAD’s curriculum to focus on situations that youth in the District of Puerto Rico are likely to encounter.
An evaluation of the program was conducted by Bernadette Chi, PhD and Ellen Middaugh, M.A. of the University of California, Berkley in 2003 to gauge its impact on students’ knowledge and attitudes about the legal system as well as Project LEAD’s capacity as a delinquency prevention model. The evaluation showed that Project LEAD provides:
Protective factors that decrease students’ propensity to become involved in negative and illegal activities.
An increase in students’ knowledge about the legal system.
An increase in positive dispositions, for example: Confidence in their own decision-making capacities; Attitudes about the legal system; and Attitudes about authority.
The 20-week curriculum, taught by AUSA Kelly Zenón-Matos, focuses on the social and legal consequences of juvenile crimes, such as illicit drug use, shoplifting and property damage. Project LEAD also teaches students techniques for resolving conflict, resisting peer pressure, promoting tolerance and respect for diversity, and the role of education in achieving economic stability. Students also learn about the federal and state judicial systems, including how they function and the roles prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and defendants play in the litigation process. The curriculum concludes with students performing a scripted mock trial, putting into practice what they have learned about the criminal justice system.
“We are very proud of these two groups that successfully completed the Project LEAD curriculum and we will continue with this project, reaching more students every semester, said W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “Thanks to AUSA Kelly Zenón-Matos for your hard work and believing in your students. Thanks to the Public Affairs and Community Engagement Division and their Chief, AUSA Jacqueline Novas, and many other AUSAs and staff for your continued and relentless support in this project.”
Project LEAD was possible with the collaboration of many federal and state agencies. Special thanks to the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico Federal Public Defender; US Marshals Service; Municipality of Loíza; PR Department of Justice; PR Department of Corrections; PR Department of Labor; Agents from the Puerto Rico Police Bureau; Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration; Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources; US Fish and Wildlife; DHS Special Agent Carol T. Kohn and her anti-bullying organization 10-8 In Service; and many Assistant US Attorneys and staff.