1992 Finalist
Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards
Saint Thomas

When court statistics revealed that over 85 percent of juvenile offenses and crimes were committed by school dropouts, Judge Verne Hodge decided that the court had to become involved in dropout and delinquency prevention programs. To do so would be to break with a tradition in which courts limited their scope of responsibility to punishment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. The purpose of the resultant Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra program is to prevent its members from dropping out of school and engaging in delinquent behavior.

The Rising Stars program targets male and female students, ages 10-18, who are enrolled in school to become members, with priority being given to at-risk students. Each new member must satisfactorily complete the summer training session in which the rule of conduct, the oath, and the program motto are taught, in addition to the provided instruction on steel-band instruments. Violations of the rules of conduct may result in probation, suspension or expulsion, and prevention from performing or traveling with the band. Passing grades must be maintained for continued program participation, and attendance is mandatory at tutoring sessions held in vacant courtrooms. Such sessions include behavioral counseling and listening skills workshops; drug, tobacco, and alcohol abuse prevention education; subject-specific academic instruction; and SAT preparatory classes. In addition, music theory and history courses are available to steel-band members.

The goals of the Rising Stars program are to prevent school dropout, juvenile delinquency, and anti-social behavior, thus reducing the number of youth defendants in the criminal justice system. In 1990 and 1991, the first two years of program implementation, no participants were involved in delinquency or criminal conduct. Similarly, no steel-band members dropped out of high school. In addition, in 1991, 93 percent of program participants (13 students) eligible to graduate high school did so. The previous year, 100 percent of the 20 steel-band members of high school graduation age completed their studies and earned a high school degree.