BIDWELL — Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have had to grow accustomed to doing work, school, and even some doctor appointments virtually. But imagine going to trial online.
River Valley High School students don’t have to imagine. This year, the school’s mock trial program will take place virtually.
“It’s a big hats-off to these students who have had to work extra hard and be even more disciplined and independently motivated because we haven’t had the same structure and face-to-face time together,” Aaron Walker, an AP English teacher and one of the teachers involved in the program, said. Another AP English teacher, Kaleigh Cox, assists with the program.
Mock trial is an annual statewide competition hosted by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education (OCLRE) for high school students to better understand the American legal system and skills. Mock trial teams consist of both the prosecution and defense, and students play roles like bailiff, attorney, and witness as they prepare for a case. Their work culminates in a trial before real judges in Ohio.
This year’s case is “a 14th Amendment case,” senior and mock attorney Ethan Gilbert explained. “An individual pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter, he’s been in prison for a year and is going back to trial to retract his guilty plea,” which he made in a plea deal.
RVHS, which this year has 30 students participating in mock trial, has been preparing for court since November.
“It’s been a really awesome experience,” Isaac Barrett, a mock witness, said. “We’ve done lots of things, even back in November.”
To prepare, students have read and analyzed seven Supreme Court cases; watched the film “Just Mercy,” which has relevance to the case; memorized objections and witness statements, which are six pages long and had scrimmages with Gallia judges and attorneys.
Mock trial is reportedly an academically rigorous program that helps students form strong communication skills.
“Mock Trial has taught me to focus better,” said junior Ian Swisher. “It requires a lot of focus and dedication, and communication, which is something I lacked before. As we went on with the practices and scrimmages, I started to gain more confidence as well.”
“I’ve learned better communication skills and I’ve talked to more of my classmates. I’ve also learned more general knowledge about law then I ever would have if I didn’t do this,” junior Leah Roberts agreed.
In years past, mock trial has taken place in person at courthouses in Portsmouth and Marietta. This year, the trials will be held online.
“A lot of schools are still remote, so we anticipate that a lot of these students will be competing from their bedrooms,” Walker said. “We actually have a couple of students who are in quarantine right now who are going to be competing from their own individual homes.”
The virtual format has posed a variety of problems with preparation, from technical difficulties to having to figure out how to present evidence over Zoom, a video-sharing platform. Still, students agree that mock trial continues to be a valuable experience despite the changes.
“It’s definitely been a hassle, but I really feel like it’s worth it. I definitely feel a lot smarter and a lot more polished than what I did last year,” said Rebecca Pearce, an RVHS senior who plays the role of attorney.
Kristin Clark, a senior who plays the role of attorney, agreed. “We’ve had to make crazy adaptations, but that doesn’t take away from the experience of mock trial, learning to speak in that higher register, learning to make a line of argumentation and presenting yourself well,” she said.
Mock trial has been present at RVHS for many years and been a part of Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum for five years.
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Sharla Moody is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing from Gallipolis, Ohio. She is a graduate of River Valley High School and currently attends Yale University.