MCCPS proclaims “court in session” with mock trial course

Editor’s note: This story ran in the Marblehead Weekly News, Jan. 26 under the headline, “Like father, like daughter.”  A request was made for corrections to the story. This is the corrected version.

With 13 students in the Mock Trial Enrichment Course at Marblehead Community Charter Public School (MCCPS), eighth grader Emmy Deboever, student council president, and Madalyn Gelb, student council treasurer, lead the suspenseful course with a similar framework and guide as Gelb’s father, a trial attorney, and Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Workshop volunteer instructor.

At MCCPS, students in the eighth grade are allowed to run enrichment programs with the supervision of a faculty advisor in this case, Peter Cohen- Head of School is the faculty advisor for the Mock Trial Enrichment Course.

“What’s nice about it is its student-run. I’m there, but I really don’t have to intervene or jump in very much at all. It’s not a teacher-led activity, it’s really student-led. And so, they’ve come up with kind of these humorous, somewhat related to real cases that are out there but made them specific to our school and humorous that kids will like to be involved in and then they come up with all the details,” said Cohen.

“I think we’ve got a lot of future attorneys on our hands,” he added.

Mock Trial Enrichment’s goal is for students in grades five through eight to learn how a court proceeding works, including an emphasis on the duties performed by attorneys, juries, judges, prosecutors, witnesses, journalists, and bailiffs.

Both Deboever and Gelb follow a Mock Trial guide similar to what Gelb’s father uses at Harvard University, “He teaches a law class at Harvard Law School, and when I showed him the packet we use he was like, I basically use the same thing but for older students,” said Gelb.

According to Gelb, it’s a good start for students in the middle school grades to get an idea of jobs they might be interested in the future. “We want to teach kids the importance of decision-making,” said Gelb.

As middle schoolers prepare for the high school experience, with endless possibilities as to what high school they plan on attending, one being Technical Agricultural High School, which trains students in specific career fields, Gelb understands a Mock Trial gives students the ability to experience the real duties of a profession, that might help them better select their career paths, “I think having an enrichment based off of a real-life job, kind of helps with that, like flow and transition,” said Gelb.

At a very young age, Gelb was exposed to the legal profession. Gelb’s father, Daniel Gelb practices law in Beverly, with his parents who are also lawyers.

Gelb feels old enough and confident to run a course she knows much about, “I think it’s really important for kids to know about this stuff and to be able to contribute into kind of the community of law and learning and I think it ties really well with a lot of the humanities that we’re doing in school,” said Gelb.

Unlike Gelb, Deboever ran a Speech and Debate Enrichment Course allowing her to contribute with different skill sets at the Mock Trial, helping students with the debates section of the trial.

The Mock Trial is one of 18 enrichment programs offered this trimester. It is still in its early stages with the third mock trials session offered this past Tuesday. The group meets once a week for 45 minutes.

The trial cases have to be school appropriate, for that matter, Gelb along with Deboever came up with cases that are interesting and relevant to the school, such as a serial arsonist of tiny homes sixth graders created for a project.

Other Mock Trials include mock cases involving the poisoning of the school lunches, embezzlement of money from their snack bar, sedition- with the vandalizing of their school’s bathroom, and overthrowing their school council.

“One of our friends has a silicone human torso named Filbert and so one of our cases is the murder of Filbert,” said Deboever.

After students choose a crime, they present their case, then the prosecution will try to make a case against who committed that crime. The defense will try to defend whomever they have as the perpetrator of the crime and then Deboever and Gelb will judge.

Gelb’s big dream is to present their filed cases in one of the local courthouses, “But honestly, that would be awesome to like get to raise enough money to get everyone on a bus and then take it over to one of the courthouses and there, you know, I can have my dad or grandparents, people who are lawyers come and watch . . .I think that would be a really cool experience for a lot of people,” said Gelb.

Just a year in as the dean of students and coordinator of the enrichment programs at MCCPS, Stephanie Brant wants to stick to the heart of what makes the Charter School stand out from the rest of the schools while ensuring that students have the opportunities to learn new skills beyond just the traditional math, science, language arts, social studies curriculum.

“You know, this enrichment is a good example of all of the 21st-century skills we want kids to have. They have, creativity, they come up with an idea, and they have to advocate. They have to speak to adults about it. They have to pitch their idea; they have to plan, they have to organize, they have to public speak,” said Brant.

“You know, from a school perspective, it’s amazing of course, that kids are learning about different careers and gaining knowledge about the legal system, but I think the skills that are related to running an enrichment are the parts that are really kind of at the heart of enrichment, at the school is what those skills are,” added Brant.