Camden fifth graders mock trial

Charges bounce off ‘Superman’ during Camden fifth graders’ mock trial
Posted on 02/21/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Charges bounce off ‘Superman’ during Camden fifth graders’ mock trialCharges bounce off ‘Superman’ during Camden fifth graders’ mock trial

Superman was acquitted Wednesday in a Camden courtroom.

The fifth grader portraying the man of steel was nonchalant, but his classmates cheered. So did their parents, teachers, and the real-life lawyers who coached the kids through the mock trial at Rutgers Law School.

It was the second year in a row that the H.B. Wilson Family School students performed the script, written by Judge Ingrid French, administrative supervising judge of worker’s compensation for New Jersey. French came up with the idea with Lorene Brown-Watkins when their church, Mount Olivet Seventh-day Adventist decided to adopt the nearby elementary school.

During a mock trial at Rutgers Law School, H.B. Wilson fifth grade “prosecutors” from left to right: Darron Townsend, 11; Khayrah Waheed, 10; and Yasin Gordon, 10; react to the acquittal. (April Saul for WHYY)

French fashioned the scenario with life lessons in mind. In it, Superman is accused of busting through a brick wall in a Costco warehouse and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. The problem is, there are no eyewitnesses.

“I wanted to show them that if someone with good character is at the wrong place at the wrong time, people give them the benefit of the doubt,” French said.

The witnesses, all played by the children, are designed to teach other lessons. An elderly character named Nosy Nana is too busy watching TV (she loves broadcaster Lester Holt) to be reliable. Homeless Harry testifies wearing torn clothing to help the students address prejudice. Lois Lane was asked, “Isn’t it true that you have a crush on Superman and would do anything to protect him?” She immediately answered “yes,” to make a point about objectivity.

On February 19, 2020, at the mock trial at Rutgers Law School, H.B. Wilson fifth graders Yasin Gordon, 10; and Alexi Caraballo, 10–who were portraying prosecutors–with a “crime scene photo.” (April Saul for WHYY)

When the student jurors retired to deliberate, French and Cherry Hill attorney Jordan Goldberg guided them to a decision. Sure enough, Corey Livingston-Randall suspects Homeless Harry, “because his clothes were all ripped up!” while a classmate is skeptical “because nobody can break a whole wall.”

“That means there is doubt,” said Goldberg. “There cannot be any doubt.”

After the verdict, the kids listened to Rutgers law students talk about their career plans and ate pizza. Alexi Caraballo, 10, who played a prosecutor, admitted to “being scared and kind of nervous” but ending up loving the experience.

Wilson principal Nicole Harrigan, embraced the idea from the start. “I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It helps to enlighten the students about how the law system works. They’re learning and having fun at the same time.”

During the mock trial at Rutgers Law School, H.B. Wilson fifth grade “prosecutors” Justin Rodriguez, 10; and Darron Townsend, 11; celebrate the end of the trial. (April Saul for WHYY)

Fifth grade teacher David Wilson says that the trial — which required lawyers to work with the students one class period a week for two to three months — brought welcome surprises. “A lot of the kids we thought wouldn’t be interested,” he said, “were the ones that performed the best.”

Wilson is disappointed that others haven’t followed his school’s lead. His goal now is for H.B. Wilson to have a mock trial team that enters competitions.

“Our kids, he said, “are capable of competing with anybody in the state. You just have to give them the opportunity.”

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