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Students Learn Lessons in Mock Trial Program

December 7, 2016
This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Young Valdosta residents put their learning to the test during the Mock Trial program.

Since 2006, the city of Valdosta has hosted mock trials at the Valdosta Municipal Court for area youth. It is also one of the many educational pro­grams the city offers to inform and educate stu­dents on local government. Since implemented, the program has impacted thousands of youth from public and private schools in the commu­nity. This interactive teaching tool also allows students to practice one of their future civic du­ties as jury members.
 
At a typical mock trial, students serve as the jury in cases that usually involve the “criminal” behavior of their teachers—who are on trial for fictitiously stealing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the faculty refrigerator or park­ing in another teacher’s parking stall. And, the punishment for the crime? It ultimately involves a confectionery payment to the students.
 
“The mock trial experience supplements les­sons from a social studies unit I teach during the year,” said Valwood School Second-Grade Teacher Jennifer Rasmussen, who has visited the court with her students for several years. “It’s nice to provide the students with a tangible connection to what we study in the classroom, and we enjoy learning firsthand about the various services our community provides.”
 
Valdosta Municipal Court Judge Vernita Bend­er and her staff use the entertaining scenarios to educate the students about the judicial process and can accommodate groups from 10 to 100 students.
 
“I strongly believe educational programs such as the mock trial proactively teach local youth about their civic responsibilities as well good citizenship,” said Bender, who received a special recognition award at the annual Municipal Court Judges Council, in June 2016. Each year, the orga­nization recognizes municipal court judges who have implemented innovative new programs.
 
“As community role models, my staff and I seek these positive interactions with youth as opportunities to inspire them to become pro­ductive and contributing members of society.”