As real as it gets: Mock trial by sixth graders teaches about sexual discrimination and the judicial system
WEST NEW YORK - No matter how rough and dangerous football is, girls should be allowed to play on a school team if they choose - that was the verdict reached by a jury of 10 sixth graders last Tuesday in a West New York courthouse in City Hall on 60th Street. All sixth grade gifted and talented classrooms from the town's five grammar schools - P.S. 1, P.S. 2, P.S. 3, P.S. 4 and P.S. 5, got a chance to experience the workings of law when the P.S. 1 gifted and talented students wrote and performed a mock trial involving a sexual discrimination case with fictitious characters. The trial was based on a compilation of actual cases. The trial revolved around a sexual discrimination suit involving the characters of Monica Gellar and Ross White. Twelve-year old Diana Gareces played the part of Gellar, a student at P.S. 1 who charged that White, the school's football coach, played by 11-year old Rouben Keshguerian, denied her the opportunity to play on the football team because of her gender. The school has produced mock trials before in the classroom but never in an actual courthouse, said Julie Ayres, an educator for the past 18 years and teacher of P.S. 1's gifted and talented class. She said the students were given various types of cases to choose from and voted to examine how the law deals with sexual discrimination. The students have been studying law since September and practicing since they wrote the trial in January. Ayres said she believes that the mock trial introduces children to the mechanics of the judicial system and its practice. She said an attorney visited the classroom in an effort to produce a realistic trial with the use of proper courtroom terminology. Ten students, two from each school, were selected to be jurors and had to be prepped by their teachers as to what kind of factors to look for in making their decision, such as solid evidence. They were also presented with decisions made by real-life jurors in similar cases. The 10 jurors did not rehearse with the P.S. 1 students and were left to make their own decisions at the end of the case. Mean judge wanted
The case started with the pounding of the gavel and a call for order by the judge, played by 11-year-old Eliana Castro, who said that the role was difficult because she had to practice a lot to be mean-spirited. Indeed, while the jury was dismissed to evaluate the evidence and produce a verdict, the judge told a noisy and surprised courtroom that she would have talkers escorted out of the room. Eleven-year old Nicolas Chavez, playing the part of the prosecutor, paced the courtroom while addressing members of the jury and witnesses on the stand. At one point, Chavez successfully proved to the jury that one witness he had called was indeed qualified to offer testimony as an athletic expert. After the jury unanimously sided with his client, Chavez said he knew all along that he would win. "There were many girls on that jury, and I'm sure they put themselves in Monica's situation and wouldn't want the same thing happening to them," he said. Chavez said that after playing the role of a prosecutor, he would consider a career in law. Likewise, Jonathan Alba, who played the role of the defense attorney, said that he too is considering a career in law. "I might, since I have the experience now," he said. "I learned that as long as you're good at something, you shouldn't be rejected based on whether you're a girl or a boy." Rouben Keshguerian who played the role of Coach White, said after the trial that he expected the jury to side with Gellar. He added, "I disagree with the jury's decision. I wouldn't want [girls] to play 'cause they might get seriously hurt." At the end of the trial, several students were allowed to ask questions to students involved in presenting the case. The jury said it arrived at a verdict favoring Gellar because sexual discrimination could not be tolerated even in a rough sport such as football. The gifted and talented program has a special curriculum developed for children that have excelled academically. Its aim is to expose the select group to learning activities not traditionally available in the classroom.