Monday, January 2, 2017

Ashlynn Wittchow
8th Grade ELA/Creative Writing

Learning the Legal System: A Look into the Mock Trial Program at Hand Middle School 

The Middle School Mock Trial Program, sponsored by the South Carolina Bar Association, is a hands-on extracurricular learning experience designed to teach students about due process and the American judicial system. Students work together as a team for countless hours after school each week as they prepare as both attorneys and witnesses for both sides of a fictional case that is being tried in court. Teams present that fictional case against teams from other schools at regional competitions across South Carolina each year. The top three teams from each regional competition advance to the state championship competition at the Lexington County Courthouse in December.

After spending a year as assistant coach of Hand Middle School’s mock trial team, I had the thrilling opportunity this year to take the helm leading our mock trial team along with our attorney coach, Greg Collins. It was an exciting (and long) season. Students began preparing their cases in late August, reading lengthy witness affidavits, demystifying legal jargon, and memorizing pages of legal rules. In addition to reading and writing extensively, students also had to hone their problem solving and public speaking skills. Mock trial students can’t simply memorize a script. Regurgitating a case doesn’t cut it when faced with an unfriendly opposing council. Students needed to know their characters and arguments inside-and-out. As our season progressed, students began getting into character, walking-and-talking as attorney and witness duos. Students even had the opportunity to practice in a “real” courtroom when we took over a lab classroom at USC’s Law School for a Saturday practice prior to state competition.

Ultimately, we had a very successful season. At the Columbia Regional Competition, several students placed as the most effective attorney or witness in their respective rounds. We managed to advance to state competition at the Lexington County Courthouse as a wild card team. Will Rambo, Gabriella Cruz, and Sophia Austermiller were recognized as being most effective in their rounds by the attorney judges at state competition. Although we didn’t make it to the final championship round, the team represented Hand Middle School very well through their civility and professionalism.

Below, you can read more about what the students had to say about their experience this season as a member of the Hand Middle School Mock Trial Team:

What do you enjoy most about Mock Trial?

“I love being part of a team, in which we all look out for each other and work together to reach a common goal. I also really enjoy the competition of playing the opposing teams, and the satisfaction it brings to work hard and it pay off. Lastly, I love the challenge of mock trial in general and everything it has helped me learn.” –Will Rambo, 6th Grade

“I enjoy being able to be part of a team with the same goal: winning state. I also love that the amount of work you put in during practice is shown during competition.”  –Catie Willm, 8th Grade
“I enjoy being able to be a part of a team and using critical analysis to support an argument.” –Bryson Stakely, 8th Grade

 “I enjoy meeting new people and learning to fine tune speech development and what to say in different situations. Collaborating with others is also something that I love about Mock Trial. You get to know other people and work with each other to make the best possible outcome for the benefit of the team.” –Maggie Smith, 8th Grade

What have you learned from participating in Mock Trial? 

“I've learned, obviously, more about the US legal system and how it operates, as well as how to think on your feet and listen to details. I've also learned how to turn a situation around, no matter how bad it seems.” –Bryson Stakely, 8th Grade  

I learned about persuasive writing, and how to really captivate a listener. I also learned how to get information out of a witness efficiently. My public speaking skills also benefited greatly from doing mock trial. –Catie Willm, 8th Grade

I have obviously learned that being a lawyer/witness is not easy stuff, but it is satisfying when you beat some other school's butt at it!!!! –Eli Crissan, 7th Grade

During my year doing mock trial, I have learned a lot about the US judicial system, how it works and what it takes to be a lawyer. But more importantly, I have learned about being part of a team, how to think on your feet, and how to be observant and pay attention to detail. Lastly, I learned how to be confident and cool under pressure. –Will Rambo, 6th Grade 

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