HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - It is a pilot program started by Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson, and his hope is it will lead students away from a life of drugs and crime later in life.
A group of fifth graders at Conway Elementary School are the only students in the state of South Carolina participating and it is the only school on the East Coast using Project Lead.
Richardson said he got the program from a defense attorney in California, who also uses it to reach students.
"The hope is that it will affect them in a way that they will think about the consequences of bad choices, and also think about the consequences of good choices," Richardson said.
The 20-week curriculum wrapped up Tuesday with a field trip to the Horry County Government and Justice Center. The fifth graders participated in a mock trial, which taught them about the judicial process and focusing on the legal and social consequences of juvenile crimes such as truancy, illicit drug use, shoplifting and graffiti.
"We've talked to them about gangs and graffiti, we've talked to them about avoiding drugs and avoiding bullying," Richardson said.
When the program first started, Khalil Campbell said he didn't know what to expect. He came out learning a lot.
"It shows you how to be a defense attorney, the prosecution and the jury" said Campbell with a smile.
Ella Williams was a prosecutor in the mock trial. She said she loves to learn.
"It's taught me about death penalties, tagging, and joy riding, so yeah, I would say it's been a very good experience," Williams excitingly said.
Richardson said they concentrated on fifth graders because it is such an impressionable age.
"When we looked at the people that have gone through Drug Court, they tell us that they got started with illegal drugs, on average, at about 12 years old, so fifth, sixth grade," said Richardson.
Richardson added volunteers have been part of Project Lead. Conway's newest mayor and attorney, Barbara Blain-Olds, worked with the children as well.
The solicitor said he believes programs like Project Lead could have a major impact on the future crime rate and gang problem in Horry County.
"This is the first year, so I think it's going to take a while to see the affects," said Richardson. "But I can tell you this; right now, there are a lot of voices out there, one big voice calling out to them (students) are these little local gangs and we want to be a positive voice."
The success of Project Lead has lead Richardson to expand the program to seven more Horry County schools next year.
He said he has asked former prosecutors and other attorneys to help with the program. Richardson added it has not been finalized which schools will have a Project Lead program.