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Justice: Best served too cold

Mock trial helps students learn the intricacies of the judicial system

Yasmin the unicorn, played by Ballston Scholar Caitlin Doyle, is questioned by the prosecution on if she witnessed Goldilocks enter the three bears home.

Yasmin the unicorn, played by Ballston Scholar Caitlin Doyle, is questioned by the prosecution on if she witnessed Goldilocks enter the three bears home. Photo by Marcy Velte.

— Goldilocks: Hardened criminal or innocent little girl who accidentally walked into the wrong home?

That’s the question parents had to decide at two mock trials held by fourth- and fifth-grade students who participate in Ballston Spa Central School District’s Ballston Scholars program.

To prepare, teacher Bairbre McCarthy provided students with an old version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” to read. They were told to think of the story as evidence. The story couldn’t be changed to prove their case, but it could be added to.

Students were then split into two teams, the defense and the prosecution. The students spent weeks establishing a story, thinking up witnesses and evidence and trying to find any ways the opposite side could poke holes in their narrative.

“I think studying the judicial system is really important for this age group,” said McCarthy. “It’s an important aspect of the curriculum later on in the year and this exercise takes the process a step further for them.”

McCarthy has been teaching the mock trials in her classes since 2006, but this is her first year working at the Ballston Spa Central School District. She previously taught the Young Scholars program at the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES. She was hired over the summer to expand the program within the district’s two elementary schools.

Those involved in the program have reasoning skills measuring in the top 1 or 2 percent of students in their age group nationwide and are tested using the School and College Ability Test by John Hopkins University. The students performing the trial of Goldilocks met one day each week and are in the literature and social studies track. Others are taught classes by McCarthy on the math, science and technology track.

“This is a great unit for working collaboratively,” said McCarthy. “It helps teach them persuasion and public speaking skills.”

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