Learning through Experience: Mock Trial at Springhouse

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Before I joined the Springhouse Board, I taught a criminal justice class at the school. The
student’s final project was to participate in a mock trial at our local courthouse. Two students were teamed up as prosecutors, two represented the defendant who was charged with a minor drug offense, and one student served as the judge. Each team of lawyers was responsible for finding and preparing its own witnesses, all of whom were either students or teachers at the school. The young man assigned the role of judge was required to create his own script for running the trial. Students and teachers who were not selected as witnesses agreed to serve as jurors.

On the day of the trial, the entire Springhouse community gathered in the courtroom. The
students involved in the trial had transformed themselves. Shirts and ties replaced tee shirts and shorts. Preparedness supplanted playfulness. My students were awed by the courtroom and thrilled with the presence of court personnel who treated them like professionals. Barely visible above the bench, the seventh grader who was assigned the role of judge looked so natural in the position that it was hard to imagine he had not done it before. When the trial was over, I was struck by the power of experiential learning, something that defines the Springhouse experience. I was also moved deeply by what these students now saw as possibilities for themselves. “Wow”, Ben said when the courtroom had emptied. “Maybe I’ll be a lawyer someday. That was really cool.”

 

Kim O’Donnell is a retired judge and is currently the Chair of the Springhouse Community School Board of Directors. 

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