This weekend, Cleburne High School senior Noelle Mitchell is being addressed as “Your Honor” as the Chief Justice presiding over cases presented by student attorneys from across Texas competing at the Youth and Government State Conference.
Mitchell, along with five state qualifiers in legislative and judicial events, represent Cleburne’s participation in YMCA Youth and Government following an absence of 20-plus years. At one point in time, under the guidance of the late Johnnie Hyde, Cleburne High School was well-known in Texas Youth and Government at the regional, state and national levels. From 1977-1990, six Cleburne High School students were elected Youth Governor.
Mitchell, who is new to CHS this year, is credited for re-introducing Youth and Government at the campus, and inspiring fellow Jackets to become as passionate about the program as she.
“Youth and Government has been a student-led movement from the very beginning,” faculty sponsor Matt Moulden said. “Noelle believed in the benefits of the program from her previous experiences, and that passion convinced me to help her start the organization at CHS.”
Mitchell’s fellow Youth and Government members at CHS are quick to point to her as their leader and guide as first-time participants in the student organization that focuses on civic engagement.
“She’s the team mom and coach,” senior Logan Herring said. “She turned people who knew absolutely nothing about the Youth and Government process into state qualifiers.”
Caleb Barkman, who is among the CHS team participating in the judicial competition, credits Mitchell for taking some “smart kids with public speaking skills” and pushing them to do more.
“We are all really smart, and have been focused on public speaking as we also compete in debate,” he said. “But we needed someone to push us farther. Noelle guided us through our work in preparing for the District meet. She got all of us bums to get our work done, on top of doing her own work.”
After competing in Youth and Government from the time she was a freshman, coupled with her state-level position this year, Mitchell was very anxious to see a chapter established at her new school.
“I was told I could start a program at CHS,” she said. “I decided to try, but I knew what we needed first was a club advisor—someone smart, government-oriented and interested in the things Youth and Government has to offer. Mr. Moulden, who is my AP government and AP macroeconomics teacher, was the obvious choice. He addressed the interest in organizing a program in class--and that’s how we were formed.”
“He’s been a great sponsor—supportive and encouraging,” she said. “When I approached him with the idea, he said ‘let’s make it happen.’ I so wanted to have Youth and Government here. I knew Cleburne had the program at one time.
I wanted to involve kids who would love it as much as I do. Youth and Government has taught me so much about many things. It’s put me on my career path. I would like to be a child advocacy attorney.”
She felt the call to serve in that capacity last summer while attending the Youth and Government Conference on National Affairs, as one of 25 delegates from Texas.
“I was blown away by the intelligence there, the commitment to issues affecting our country and the desire to bring about change,” she said. “I felt, as an attorney, I could affect change and help people. I prayed about it a ton, and just really feel it will be a good way for me to spend my time on earth.”
Mitchell has also been looking forward to her time in the courtrooms of the Travis County Courthouse this weekend.
“We always use real courtrooms at the state conference,” she said. “The first case I ever argued, as a freshman lawyer in Youth and Government Appeals Court, was in the Texas Supreme Court Building. It’s like a mini version of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“As a judge, I hear the case and render an opinion, but students don’t give scores,” she said. “Evaluators actually do that. I’m evaluated on whether I give a proper verdict.”
Mitchell’s team members were very impressed by her judicial presence—and skills—at the District Conference.
“It was interesting to see her as a guiding hand when we were preparing our cases for District,” Tarek Arouse said. “Then I got to see her in action in the courtroom, picking apart my argument and those of others.”
“She’s like a machine gun when she gets in the courtroom,” Barkman said. “She’s something else.”
Mitchell is happy to be joined by fellow Yellow Jackets at the state conference, and excited to share the experience with them.
“When I decided to organize a program in Cleburne, I wanted to have people who wanted to do this, were motivated to do this,” she said. “This is a really good group who chose to give their time to this. They committed and followed through. Going to District, I worried if I had done my best to prepare them. I was so pleased with the outcome. I’m very proud of them. I saw them improve over the course of each day. I’m excited at how they’ve continued to grow in preparing for state.”
“I think I’ve made them passionate about Youth and Government,” she said. “And that’s half the battle. Caleb, Arturo Rolon and Gerardo Lozano, who are juniors, are so excited about next year and getting more kids involved. It’s not easy to motivate teenagers to do something new.”
Kyle Boles, CISD executive director of Human Resources, is pleased to see this new opportunity for involvement at CHS. In 1984, Boles served as the Youth Lt. Governor in his senior year. Years later, he was back in service in being elected to the Cleburne City Council.
“This really makes me happy,” Boles said. “Youth and Government was such a wonderful program for a bunch of us kids in the 70s and 80s. It had an effect on a lot of those CHS students who went on to careers in the legal profession, both elected and appointed positions in government, and education.”
“I hope these kids get the same experience and exposure to government that we did,” Boles said. “It’s a challenge, and lots of hard work, and also a lot of fun. For me, it was a wonderful experience to get to be at the state capitol as a member of the Youth House of Representatives as a sophomore, running for governor as a junior and serving as lieutenant governor as a senior.”
Mitchell, who has been in private school since the seventh grade, began planning for enrollment at CHS her junior year.
“I’ve always lived in Cleburne and all my best friends go to school here,” she said. “There are a lot more AP classes here than where I was going to school. I loved it there, but worked all last year knowing I would be at CHS as a senior.”
“It’s great to be back and connecting with friends,” Mitchell said. “I’m excited to graduate from high school in the town where I was born. It’s a great thing.”
While Youth and Government has been an important part of her high school years, it’s not her only interest. She is a member of Exchangettes, National Honor Society, Key Club, International Thespian Society—as well as president of Youth and Government.
She was a featured performer in the CHS fall production of “High School Musical,” and has landed the role of Helen Keller’s mother in “The Miracle Worker,” Cleburne’s UIL One Act Play entry.
“Youth and Government gives me a creative outlet, and so does theater,” Mitchell said. “I’m also competing in UIL Academics Persuasive Speaking. Youth and Government has really prepared me for that. I’m very comfortable speaking in front of others.”
As Mitchell renders the verdict for her final case on the docket at this weekend’s state conference, it will also signal her final moments as the Youth Chief Justice. She will be passing the gavel to her predecessor in ceremonies Saturday evening.
“Every year I have watched the outgoing remarks and people have cried,” she said. “I’ve always thought, ‘I won’t cry. When it’s my turn, I’m not going to cry when I give my speech.’ But I know I will, when I consider the friends, the people I’ve met, the experiences I have had in the program I love.”
Mitchell will continue to be involved with Youth and Government, with plans to apply for attendance at the Conference on National Affairs, which will take place in Blackstone, North Carolina. Her summer plans also include the National Judicial Conference in Chicago before she transitions into college mode, having been accepted into the Honors program at Baylor University.
Mitchell’s teammates are also looking to the future, knowing their Youth and Government “fearless leader” has laid the groundwork and will be moving on.
“With Noelle being a senior, it will be up to us to pick up the torch and carry on,” Barkman said. “When we started the program this year, the goal was to make state. Long term, we want to involve more students and continue to be competitive. We have already received great support from the community. There are a lot of local attorneys really supportive of this.”
413th District Court Judge William Bosworth is among them, along with Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain, both graduates of CHS.
“One of my brothers was involved in Youth and Government,” Bosworth said. “I think this gives students practical orientation into the way government is supposed to work. It provides real-world knowledge in working with the system to bring about change.”
Cain, who will be honoring the CHS Youth and Government Team at an upcoming City Council meeting, said he was excited to see the next generation of Cleburne leaders already making a positive impact.
“It has been a joy to watch Noelle Mitchell as her leadership skills have developed from her childhood to today,” Cain said. “Her positive attitude is infectious and her integrity is above reproach. She exemplifies these qualities and has shared them with many CHS students.”
“I know that this generation of Yellow Jackets will leave a positive mark on our community and world while setting the standard for those students who follow in their footsteps,” Cain said. “Cleburne is preparing the next generation of leaders, innovators, creators and dreamers and these students are already making a positive impact.”
As a new student, Mitchell admits to some pride in planting a seed and seeing it bloom, knowing there are those behind her who will expand on what she has started.
“I guess you could say I’m proud of bringing Youth and Government back,” she said. “It had been such a big deal here. I have enjoyed hearing people talk about it. Coming back to CHS, this wasn’t my initial thought, but I’m excited to see what’s happening and an interest in keeping it going next year.”
Cleburne High School senior Noelle Mitchell is presiding as the Youth Chief Justice at this weekend’s Youth and Government State Conference. Mitchell is credited as the catalyst to the revival of the YMCA Youth and Government program at CHS.
Noelle Mitchell’s visit to the courtroom of 413th District Judge William Bosworth included a look at the gavel carved for Bosworth by one of his brothers.
article courtesy of Lisa Magers