Some questions are harder to answer than others, but the query "Why do judges wear black robes" proved no challenge at all for a group of Mundelein eighth grade students Friday.
"Because you are chilly," immediately jumped out of the audience in Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes courtroom during the assembly to honor the students who may have otherwise been overlooked.
A program designed by Shanes and Mundelein Police Chief Raymond Rose cited the group from Carl Sandberg, Fremont and West Oak middle schools for their success in making better choices in the past school year.
Rose said the kids on the trip to the courthouse, who were later treated to lunch with their parents at the Mundelein police station, were picked by teachers and administrators for showing the most improvement in critical areas.
"There are kids who are never going to be on the honor roll, kids who are never going to be the stars of the sports teams," Rose said. "But they are kids who are working very hard, showing up every day and doing their best and we have got to let them know we appreciate them and their effort."
Carl Sandburg Principal Mark Pilut said Shanes and Rose approached the schools last year with the concept of finding kids who had been leaning toward trouble but decided to go the other way.
"We looked for students who may have been on the path of not making good choices -- attendance issues, grade issues and the like," Pilut said. "Basically, kids who were on a bumpy road and turned it around."
Shanes gave a short lecture on the legal system, then introduced lawyers, court clerks, court reporters and court deputies and had them explain their roles to the kids.
Then he allowed them to take turns wearing his robe and sitting in his chair behind the bench in the courtroom.
"It was really cool," said Karina Lopez of West Oak as she passed Shanes' robe on to the next student in line. "I felt like I had some order and control."
Shanes told the children that with their success came a measure of responsibility to their peers.
"For all your hard work, you have earned the pride we have in you," he told the students. "You are now the role models for others in your classrooms and can show them by your example that they can achieve this as well."