By Julia Barnett
Legal terms such as “objection” and “may it please the court” were enthusiastically used last month when students at HCC Middle School had the exciting opportunity to be coached by members of the Byram Hills Mock Trial Team for their annual atomic bomb trial. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors from the high school had the chance to serve on the jury and decide the final verdict. They also mentored over two hundred eighth grade students, and they taught them important legal, oratory, and writing skills. This event fosters cooperation among the school community and supports leadership skills for the high schoolers.
The trial was between Japan and The United States Government and its goal was to determine whether the US was guilty of an unjust attack on civilians using the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both the prosecution and defense, consisting entirely of eighth grade students, had a well prepared team full of lawyers, paralegals, and witnesses. Some key witnesses that were portrayed by the eighth graders were Harry Truman, General Douglas MacArthur, and Hiroshima bombing survivors. On the day of the trial, the eighth graders showed up in business attire as lawyers or appropriate costumes to realistically portray the witnesses.
In order to help prepare the middle schoolers for their trial, Byram Hills sophomore and lawyer of the Mock Trial Team, Alessandra Colella went to the middle school to give her expert advice. When asked what concepts she taught the middle schoolers, she said, “For the lawyers, I helped them to create the most effective direct examinations that would help them get exactly what they wanted from their witnesses. I also helped them create cross examinations that would reduce the witnesses’ credibility.” Alessandra described the experience as very fun, and she said it was cool to see all the progress the eighth graders made throughout the class period.
Isabelle Ilan, a Byram Hills sophomore who is also a member of the mock trial team, had the opportunity to help coach the students to be witnesses for the trial. Isabelle explains, “It is extremely important for a witness to get into character; I helped them give natural responses and show emotion when being asked questions by their lawyers.” Isabelle also gave the witnesses advice on how to respond to cross examination questions in the most efficient way.
The Mock Trial Team’s mentorship had a significant impact on the eighth grade students. HCC student and trial evidence expert Mia Spadafino said, “High school students helped me by suggesting websites and databases and giving me ideas for evidence. Also, I learned more about a real trial, and lots of different facts about the actual event that I feel I wouldn’t have learned in class.” Overall, the atomic bomb trial was an extremely positive experience for both the middle and high schoolers who participated in this event.
*Photos courtesy of Jessica Agovino and Robin Drake