Law School Hosts 6th Graders Over Spring Break
This version of Law School Hosts 6th Graders Over Spring Break is the corrected version of the article that appeared in the March 18, 2009 print edition of Nota Bene.
While most students spent this Spring Break working on the journal competition, or sipping exotic drinks in warm places, a few were courageous enough to brave the cold and over 150 6th graders from Kent Gardens Elementary School on March 4. This was the second year in a row that the law school has hosted elementary school students in an effort to provide a brief lesson in civics.
The effort is an outgrowth of speeches and writings by Professor Jonathan Turley criticizing the lack of civics being taught in elementary schools. He suggested that elementary schools use the resources of local law schools to fill the major gap in primary school education in the area of civics and basic constitutional concepts. "Kent Gardens then called my bluff and sent over 400 students over three days," said Professor Turley. Last year, over Spring Break, GW Law hosted 2nd, 3rd, and 6th graders from Kent Gardens.
This year, the tradition continued, but only with 6th graders over a period of a couple of hours. The children were first split into two groups; those in the first group were directed down into LL102 for a forensics lesson and those in the second group were given juror stickers then shuffled into the moot courtroom for a mock trial. The event started with Professor Turley giving an overview of the constitution and the basic rights given to all citizens. When asked what kinds of rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, the answers ranged from highly intelligent to humorous. For instance, one 6th grader said, "You have the right to a jury in a criminal trial," while another added, "You have the right to drive a car when you're 18." The students then listened to a presentation by a GW investigator on forensics and evidence collection, and also got the chance to play jurors in a mock trial. The trial: U.S. v. BB Wolf was a double-murder and attempted murder trial based on the children's story of the Three Little Pigs.
During the forensics lesson, the children were given a presentation on evidence collection by one of GW's investigators, Christine Pucillo, and participated in a line-up activity, where they had to identify the correct "thief" who stole the investigator's badge. Chris Healey, a 1L that helped out in the forensics room, was blown away by some of the kids. "Part of the presentation showed microscopic images of a hair and a fiber and all of our jaws dropped when one student called out that the fiber was nylon, which was absolutely right!" Several students played the "thieves" and played a role in the line up. 2L David Faranda played one of the potential thieves in the line-up activity. "In both classes, significant amounts of kids picked out one of the three who did not in fact steal the badge. I think the forensics lesson in total taught them that every piece of evidence has a certain amount of weight given to it. They learned that an eyewitness' testimony, a shoeprint, or a fiber can take you part of the way to a conviction, but can't make your case a slam dunk."
At the end of each presentation, the presenters, in each of the rooms, Judge Turley and the investigator opened the floor up for questions. Almost all of the children had a question or two. "They relentlessly fired questions at Professor Turley during the Q&A session following the trial. It was one of the hottest benches I've ever seen," recalls McGonigle. Down in the forensics room, the Q&A session was... interesting, to say the least. The Q& A session was equally entertaining. One girl kicked off the session by asking Investigator Pucillo if she had ever seen a dead body. The investigator responded that she had seen one. The little girl then asked, "how did that make you feel?" About 5 questions later, another little girl referencing a TV show her friend likes to watch (forensic files) asked if it was true whether or not you could tell how long someone had been dead by the presence of maggots in the body. 2L David Faranda was stunned by the number of topics and questions the kids raised down in the forensics room. "I was impressed by the depth of the questions the kids had for the law students and professionals," he commented, "we heard questions ranging from the ethics of representing a guilty defendant to the psychological effects of investigating a murder".
At the end of the event, the children and teachers were treated to milk and cookies, and were given the opportunity to talk with the students and Professor Turley. It was obvious that the children thoroughly enjoyed the mock trial and being able to play jurors for a day. During the milk and cookie meet and greet session, McGonigle received several comments about the trial. "Afterwards, one of the kids came up to provide some comfort for [losing the second trial]. First he told me how he had sided with the Wolf, then he shared some of his beef jerky. My client still went to jail, but the jerky took some of the sting away." Some of the kids even offered to help with the appeal.
Even though there was little warmth outside, and the only beverages being served were reduced fat milks and mini bottles of water, all the students, law and elementary, had a fun time and learned valuable lessons. The children learned about the constitution and evidence, and the law students learned that the best form of birth control is spending 3 hours with 10 year olds. On a more serious note, the law students got a unique opportunity to share a small piece of their world with a small group of people who will undoubtedly make a big impact some day.