CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has launched a new outreach program called Robes to Schools.
The program is part of Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis' 2007 initiative as Chief Justice, "Year of the Child, Too."
The goal of Robes to Schools is to have active and retired justices, circuit judges, family court judges and magistrates make regular appearances in West Virginia schools.
"We want to help all children, not just those who end up in the Court system," Davis said. "As the mother of a grade school student, I know how precious class time is and how many demands are put on teachers. This program is designed to enhance existing instructional time rather than detract from it."
In the two-part program, judicial officers will volunteer to participate in Read Aloud programs in elementary schools, and they will join a new speaker's bureau to talk to elementary, middle and high school classes about the judicial system.
To launch the program, all five state Supreme Court justices are reading to elementary school classes this month. Three read on Wednesday.
Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard read to fifth graders at Kanawha City Elementary School in Charlesotn, Justice Joseph P. Albright read to fourth graders at Mineral Wells Elementary School in Wood County and Davis read to third graders at Montrose Elementary School in South Charleston.
"Education is everything," Davis said after reading a book called "Finders Keepers" to the third graders. "It only makes our state better. If we can't get the children involved in the state, why are they going stay in the state?"
Maynard read part of a Sherlock Holmes story to the fifth graders.
"I'm a fossil," Maynard said. "I thought there's nothing about me that will interest these kids. But I think they really enjoyed the story. I agonized for two days what to read. I probably looked at more than 150 books.
"It was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to doing it again. It was a nice change from the sterile place where we work."
"It truly is a court project," Davis said. "All of the justices are excited. It's a chance for us to get out of our regular environment and interact with children, which always should be fun."
Davis said she regularly reads to her son's grade school classes, noting that she even dressed as a pirate to read a pirate story when he was in first grade.
"Reading, of course, is a basis for everything," she said.
In the days ahead, Justice Larry Starcher will read to third graders and preschoolers on Monday at Skyview Elementary School in Morgantown and to fifth graders on Jan. 29 at Mylan Park Elementary School in Morgantown.
Justice Brent Benjamin will read to third graders on Jan. 26 at St. Michael's School in Wheeling.
Maynard said he was impressed by how intelligent the students were.
"These kids are very sophisticated about what's going on the world and the courts," he said. "It's interesting how much they know and how smart they are."
Maynard said he looks forward to reading to other classes when he can. He said he also plans to go back to Kanawha City Elementary.
"I will go back to that school to do a mock trial with those students," he said. "They want to put their teacher on trial.
"There aren't many good stories in the news, but this is one. I'm glad to be a part of it."
The Read Aloud program and speaker's bureau are being coordinated by the Supreme Court's Information Services Division. Anyone who wants to invite a judge to read to a class or speak to a class can contact Information Services Director Jennifer Bundy at (304) 340-2305 or Information Specialist Kandi Greter at (304) 340-2306 or call their local circuit judge, family judge or magistrate.