Sims Elementary School in the Elk Grove Unified School District participates in mock trials to teach students about the United States legal system, presentation literacy and research skills
With Court in session to determine if Marlin was a negligent father by taking his son, Nemo, to the edge of the reef students at Joseph Sims Elementary School had a front row seat to watch People v. Marlin, a mock trial that offers students a hands-on approach to learning about the Judicial Branch of government. Mock trials give students real life experiences involving characters from well-known stories, and Sims Elementary School Stars gain a working knowledge of the legal system in the United States.
The benefits of these mock trials go beyond the understanding of the court system, trials, the government and the legal system. Students gain valuable experience in speaking and listening, collaboration, close reading and making inferences, all of which meet multiple Common Core State Standards. Fifth grade teacher, Erika Yee, recalled, “A memorable experience for us was watching one student, in our first year, realize that the courthouse was not always a negative place. This student had only seen the inside of a courtroom as a custody battle. Seeing how the ‘other side’ worked provided more understanding and realization that the courthouse wasn’t such a scary place. This type of social-emotional learning could never be replicated without the experience of mock trial.” Mock trials have also improved student writing, brought history lessons to life, created critical researchers, provided numerous opportunities for public speaking, and most importantly, taught students how to be a positive and productive citizen.
Mock Trials at Joseph Sims Elementary began five years ago when parent Jonathan Stein attended a mock trial with his son. The presiding Judge Kronlund encouraged Stein to bring mock trials to his son’s school. The mock trial program at Sims started with one classroom using the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento for the trial. The experience led to the program expanding and including all fifth and sixth grade classes at Sims within a two-year timespan, with fifth graders holding their mock trials at school and sixth graders in mock trial in an actual courthouse.
Ms. Yee and all the other teachers involved with the mock trials are so grateful to the generosity of Jonathan Stein putting countless hours into bringing mock trials to life at Sim Elementary School. He has taught the students about the Bill of Rights and the Judicial Branch and given these students the opportunity to evaluate societal trends through a more critical lens. Ms. Yee says, “As an educator, anything that we can find that academically meets our standards, is interdisciplinary, and is a real life experience with real life application is a win-win.”
Mock trials were ramped up in the third year of implementation, with a “crime” staged for the sixth graders, who then wrote their own witness statements, arguments and witness questions, and a true jury of sixth grade peers is now used. Past trials include People v. Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz), People v. Hagrid (Harry Potter series), People v. Sully and Mike (from Monsters Inc), and Mr. Stein is currently working on a new crime and trial based on rumors being spread.