Eighth grade homeschooled students participate in Mock Trial Competition

On April 30, 26 eighth grade homeschooled students from Vancouver and Battle Ground competed in a Mock Trial Competition at Battle Ground Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson
On April 30, 26 eighth grade homeschooled students from Vancouver and Battle Ground competed in a Mock Trial Competition at Battle Ground Baptist Church. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson

Students from Vancouver and Battle Ground acted as attorneys and witnesses for the prosecution and defense in a fictitious criminal court proceeding

Jessica Wilkinson
For Clark County Today

On April 30, 26 eighth grade homeschooled students from Vancouver and Battle Ground competed in a Mock Trial Competition at Battle Ground Baptist Church. Acting as attorneys and witnesses for the prosecution and defense in a fictitious criminal court proceeding, 13 students from the Central Vancouver Classical Conversations Community competed against 13 students from the Battle Ground Classical Conversations Community in front of approximately 200 audience members. 

The event included two lengthy rounds, with each team winning one round, decided by five jurors and a judge. The Central Vancouver Team won the first round, and the Battle Ground Team won the second round, a close competition, by 1.2 points. 

Acting as attorneys and witnesses for the prosecution and defense in a fictitious criminal court proceeding, 13 students from the Central Vancouver Classical Conversations Community competed against 13 students from the Battle Ground Classical Conversations Community in front of approximately 200 audience members. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson
Acting as attorneys and witnesses for the prosecution and defense in a fictitious criminal court proceeding, 13 students from the Central Vancouver Classical Conversations Community competed against 13 students from the Battle Ground Classical Conversations Community in front of approximately 200 audience members. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson

Before the event, students decided on the most effective way to present their cases and perform them persuasively. The preparation, which occurred throughout the spring semester in a homeschool program called Challenge B, introduced students to the legal system and helped them grow in critical thinking, public speaking, and persuasive argument. 

The Honorable Andrew Lawhon, a Vancouver defense attorney, former prosecutor, and pro tem judge for Clark County District Court, donated his time to preside over the trials for the fifth consecutive year. 

“Both teams put forth a terrific effort,” Judge Lawhon said. “I appreciated hearing quality arguments. I think the training in reason and logic required to prepare for this event will help these students vet claims they hear in the media and elsewhere for the rest of their lives.” 

The event included two lengthy rounds, with each team winning one round, decided by five jurors and a judge. The Central Vancouver Team won the first round, and the Battle Ground Team won the second round, a close competition, by 1.2 points. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson
The event included two lengthy rounds, with each team winning one round, decided by five jurors and a judge. The Central Vancouver Team won the first round, and the Battle Ground Team won the second round, a close competition, by 1.2 points. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson

When discussing the challenge for some students to overcome nerves and think on their feet, Judge Lawhon said, “Gaining confidence to speak in front of an audience is invaluable training. Good orators make history. So developing skills in oration and rhetoric is important. They did a great job.” 

The mock trial event included typical court proceeding elements, with rules for the courtroom, retirement of the jury to deliberate, and a bailiff. In addition, the attorneys for both teams presented opening and closing arguments, called witnesses to the stand, introduced evidence, cross-examined witnesses, and even objected to their opponent’s line of questioning on multiple occasions. 

Lincoln Swift, a prosecuting attorney for the Central Vancouver team in the second round, appreciated Judge Lawhon’s effort to educate the teams and the audience throughout the process. For example, if an objection was overruled, the judge graciously explained his reasoning and gave cues for what would work. He also commended the student’s instincts when they objected to something wrong but cited the incorrect objection. 

“He was very encouraging and empowering,” Swift said. “I felt like Judge Lawhon taught us so much throughout the day, and I liked him. Before this semester, I had no experience or understanding of how the court system worked, and I learned a great deal from both sides of the competition. The process was interesting, challenging, and exciting, and I am very proud of how our group worked together.” 

Before the event, students decided on the most effective way to present their cases and perform them persuasively. The preparation, which occurred throughout the spring semester in a homeschool program called Challenge B, introduced students to the legal system and helped them grow in critical thinking, public speaking, and persuasive argument. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson
Before the event, students decided on the most effective way to present their cases and perform them persuasively. The preparation, which occurred throughout the spring semester in a homeschool program called Challenge B, introduced students to the legal system and helped them grow in critical thinking, public speaking, and persuasive argument. Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson

“Mock Trial is truly a success, whether a team wins or loses,” said the Battle Ground Challenge B Program Director Jennifer Locey. “It’s valuable for so many reasons. First, these eighth-grade students examined the relationship between intentions of one’s actions versus culpability when an accident occurs, and a crime is committed. Then, as a group, they used deduction and critical thinking to develop a strategy for the prosecution and defense as they pleaded both cases on the day of the trial.

“Amazing growth transpired in the last thirteen weeks,” Locey said. “I could not be more proud of what I witnessed on Saturday. The students showed poise and elocution and were well-practiced and prepared.” 

Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson
Photo courtesy Jessica Wilkinson

Sarah Matthews, the director of the Central Vancouver Team, shared, “As director, I have been walking my Challenge B class through learning a court case, developing arguments from the prosecution and defense sides, and creating a full-court procedure with attorneys and witnesses. But, my students did the hard work of developing strategy, story, witness direct examination and cross-examination questions, and their opening and closing statements.” 

“My team came up with our arguments by troubleshooting before the event,” reported Santiago Suarez, a Central Vancouver student. Suarez delivered a convincing act as a critical witness for the defense in the first round. The judge and jurors complimented Suarez’s realistic performance for how he embodied his fictitious character for the trial. 

“I read my witness statement repeatedly to prepare for the cross-examination. It was difficult to anticipate the prosecutor’s questions, but my team practiced a lot, and I enjoyed working with my team,” said Suarez. 

“If you want to know if eighth-graders can recognize and create logical arguments to tough questions and deliver them with confidence and authority … They can,” Matthews said. 

The Mock Trial event concluded with Judge Lawhon offering comments on each student’s performance throughout the day. He gave feedback and emphasized strengths for all 26 eighth-graders, a welcome encouragement after a grueling competition. 

“Hopefully, every kid left the courtroom knowing they had accomplished something truly amazing,” said Battle Ground’s Director Locey.

Jessica Hofer Wilkinson is a freelance writer, home educator and mother of four and nursing home chaplain. She resides in Clark County.

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