Eighth-graders see civics in action
RADFORD — Dalton Intermediate School eighth-graders received a hands-on civics lesson at the Radford City Courthouse on Monday morning.
About 100 students watched classmate Ty Hamblin, who was acting as the prosecutor, call upon his first witness. A Radford deputy escorted eighth-grader Shawn Reed into the courtroom moments later.
Reed sat at the witness stand for about five minutes answering question after question from both the prosecution and defense regarding a shoplifting case. His answers were carefully calculated. In fact, they were rehearsed.
That’s because the eighth-grade students, who are learning about the judicial system, were participating in mock trials set up by Radford Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Rehak.
Rehak handed out mock trial cases to the students about a month ago. Each student volunteered for parts in the four mock trials and could act as a member of the prosecution, defense or jury or as a witness.
Civics teacher Joanne Cook invited Rehak to speak to her classes earlier in the school year. That’s when the idea of doing mock trials with the students at the courthouse came to him.
“I spoke to four or five classes one day, and the idea just started to hatch because I was doing these mock trials for a criminal justice class I teach at Radford occasionally,” Rehak said.
Cook said she thought the opportunity would give her students the hands-on experience she desires to supplement book work in the classroom.
“I wanted them to see civics in action,” Cook said.
Rehak said he scaled down the cases to an eighth-grade level while allowing students to deviate from the script, use critical thinking skills and gain an understanding of how the justice system works.
“I think you saw some pretty clever maneuvering in the way they were trying to come up with explanations,” Rehak said. “I tried to write a part for an actor and left a lot of stuff out. I wrote in there you’re allowed to use your reasonable imagination to fill in the blanks if something is missing.”
On Monday morning, students were given a play-by-play of how the court system works inside the courtroom.
“This is for them to see the criminal justice system from behind the scenes,” Rehak said. “The TV inaccurately portrays the way the criminal justice system actually functions.”
Rehak said he hopes the mock trials inspired students to consider a career in criminal justice.
Eighth-grader Connor Shaffer said she wasn’t necessarily interested in a career in the field before the trip to the courthouse but is now considering it.
“When I went to the courthouse today, I got really interested in it and realized how fun it is,” Shaffer said. “You’re helping serve justice, and it’s for a good cause. I never thought of that until today.”
Shaffer’s peer, Bayley Holbrook, said he wants to be a lawyer and that the field trip confirmed his desire.
“I’d like to be a lawyer because there’s a rush you get when you’re in the courtroom,” Holbrook said.
Rehak said he believed that education, for the most part, is about “teaching to the test” and trying to have students pass their Standards of Learning tests. He believes field trips such as this will enhance each student’s education.
“It’s the field trips and experiences like this that these kids will remember,” Rehak said.
Both Cook and Rehak hope to continue the mock trial experience for students into the future.
“This is the first time we’ve ever done this so I was a little apprehensive,” Cook said. “I didn’t even know if there was enough room in the courthouse for us all. I was a little nervous.”
But Cook said the field trip went off without a hitch and that the students made her proud.
“I think they all stepped up to the plate, rehearsed and took it seriously,” Cook said. “They loved it and put their heart and soul into each part. They really set the bar high for next year.”
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