Posted On: Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Attorney Sarah Yonkers and witness Erin Kelly during the Mock Trial playoffs. Judge John J. Russo is presiding.

The pigs await their turn on the witness stand

Twenty Harding Middle School students will delve into the American judicial process in a very hands-on way as two Harding teams will travel to Columbus to compete in the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education’s Middle School Mock Trial State Showcase competition on April 17.

Middle School Mock Trial cases are based on popular literature, written by teams of teachers and lawyers.  Students act as witnesses and attorneys to argue cases involving characters from the year’s chosen book. This year’s trial will be Benjamin, et. al v. Napolean et. al, based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Students read and analyze witness statements drawn from the characters in the book.  Students then work collaboratively to develop arguments for both sides and develop strategies to question the witnesses.

Harding has a successful history at the Mock Trial competition. In 2011, the school’s team was the top team in the state and teams year-to-year have finished in the top half of participating schools, usually around 50 from around the state. Harding participants also have routinely earned “Best Witness” or Best Attorney” awards.

This year, Language Arts teachers Ruth Pangrace and Pam Sheils incorporated the preparation for the competition into their curriculum rather than as a club.

“The Middle School Mock Trial program is wonderful for our students because it hits so many Common Core Language Arts and Social Studies standards,” said Pangrace. “Developing a case involves close reading, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and corroboration. Students have to think on their feet. Students spent a great deal of time writing and re-writing. Claims must be supported by evidence. On top of all that, the kids get to dress up as barnyard animals and use their acting skills! This is what learning should look like.”

To determine the composition of the Harding 7th & 8th grade teams, playoff trials were held in mid-March. Each team consists of a pair of prosecuting attorneys, a pair of defense attorneys and six witnesses.

To give the playoff trials an authentic feeling, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judges John O’Donnell, Brian Corrigan, Michael Astrab, Dick Ambrose and John J. Russo presided over the trials in full robe regalia and gavel in hand. They were joined by a panel of several local attorneys as well. The highest scoring students in their respective roles were then chosen for the competition teams.

Leading up to the playoffs attorneys Pete Kwiatkowski, Andrea Rocco and Dan Shields assisted the students on how to prepare for the elements of a trial.

“Lakewood is so fortunate to have the community support that brought three legal advisors into the classroom weekly,” Pangrace said. “Whether they made it to Columbus or not, the students were thrilled to present their cases to such a prestigious and authentic audience. We appreciate everyone who helped make this experience so memorable for so many students.”

Good luck to all those students who were chosen to participate in Mock Trial in April:

8th Grade Team:

Attorneys: Ella Calleri, Marisa Campbell, Sarah Yonkers, Nina Zanghi
Witnesses: Abby Allio, Dean Danckaert, Riley Geyer, Erin Kelly, Finn Potter, Lalia Riseng-Williams

7th Grade Team:

Attorneys: Grace Heidorf, LeeMartine Lucas, Laura Shields, Julia Szentkiraly
Witnesses: Lily Fordu, McKenzie Roe, Ivy Rook, Audrey Stahl, Sydney Wilhelmy, Jack Wynn


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