RACINE — An approximately 24-year tradition came to an end last week as Racine County Circuit Court Judge Emily Mueller presided over her last swearing-in ceremony for Racine Unified peer mediators.
Mueller’s last day as a judge, before retiring, was last week, although she will stay on in-partial capacity through Nov. 26. She had served as a Racine County judge since 1992.
She has volunteered to do the peer mediators swearing-in ceremony at the Racine County Courthouse on her own time every year for almost a quarter-century.
“I know from the many years that I’ve done this that peer mediators are among the very best students and indeed the very best people in any school,” Mueller told the crowd of students and loved ones gathered for the ceremony.
Families packed the second-floor courtroom on the evening of Oct. 8 to watch their youngsters be sworn in as peer mediators.
“I know that peer mediation training isn’t easy,” Mueller told the students.
The judge impressed upon the students the importance of impartiality, fairness and confidentiality when acting in their peer-mediator capacities. She said she knew they trained very hard, and that they will work even harder to try to make peace in their schools.
“You are helping to keep peace in the schools, you are helping the students who are coming to you for assistance and are coming to you to help solve their problems,” she said. “It says a lot about you that you are people that other kids come to for assistance and for help and that they will trust you to keep their secrets, to maintain their confidentiality and to do the very best job that you can in helping them to reach a resolution that is good for them.”
Racine Unified has been using peer mediation to deal with minor student conflicts since 1983. Peer mediators are fourth and fifth-grade students who attend a four-day training over the summer before diving into their work at the start of the school year.
After the ceremony on Oct. 8, Mueller shook hands and spoke briefly with each of the students who took part in it.
Mueller presided over four peer mediator swearing in ceremonies this year over the course of two days. She told the students she would ensure that another judge will be available to preside over the ceremonies in the coming years.
Laura Vanderheyden, student assistance/PBIS coordinator for Unified, said she was amazed with Mueller’s commitment to the annual ceremony as well as taking time to meet each student.
“It’s so personal,” Vanderheyden said.
During the ceremony last week, Vanderheyden presented Mueller with a plaque recognizing her years of service to the peer mediation program, which is run by student assistance.
The plaque reads, in part, “Thank you for the time, compassion, and love you gave to the many students who stood before you and promised to act as leaders in our schools.”
Receiving the plaque was a surprise to Mueller, who said she found the sentiment on it “lovely.”
“It was a nice way to combine working with the kids, which I like to do, and being a judge, so it was cool,” Mueller said of her years presiding over the swearing-in ceremony.
“I know from the many years that I’ve done this that peer mediators are among the very best students and indeed the very best people in any school.” Emily Mueller, retired Racine County Circuit Court judge