ELKHART — Classmates Gabby Moore and Gabby Anderson, both 10 and students at Nappanee Elementary School, were bursting with excitement Friday morning, Oct. 11, as they waited to begin a mock trial in an Elkhart County courtroom.
The girls explained that they have been learning about the court system in class for about a month.
“Being here is very exciting,” Anderson said, glancing anxiously to the front of the courtroom, where Judge Evan Roberts waited to begin. “It’s a first-time experience, and I can tell it’s going to be exciting.”
Roberts and his staff gave the students an overview of how the court system works and explained the roles of the court reporter, bailiff, deputy public defender and probation officer, before enlisting the kids in a mock trial. It’s an event that Nappanee fifth grade students do each year, according to teacher Sandra Kurtz.
“The appeal (to the students) is that they watch legal shows on TV, (and) they hear their parents talking about cases,” Kurtz explained. “(The students) are really interested in how this whole system works, and they are really interested in things being fair.”
Kurtz added that students practice doing mock trials in class, and they’ve also learned terms like “plaintiff” and “red herring.”
Gabby Moore, who said she watches “Judge Judy” with her grandma, added that her favorite part of doing mock trials in class is when she plays the role of bailiff.
“You get to see what’s going on, and it’s interesting,” Moore said.
More than one student mentioned watching legal shows with a parent or grandparent. They peppered Roberts with questions about whether televised cases they had seen are similar to what he’s experienced in the courtroom. Students were also interested in Roberts himself — how long he went to school to be a judge, and what his favorite and least favorite parts of the job are. One student asked Roberts if being a judge is fun.
“It is fun being a judge,” Roberts responded. “It’s a heck of a responsibility being a judge, and a privilege.”
Later, Roberts said that he hopes the students’ lighthearted experience in the courtroom will have a lasting impact.
“We’ve been doing this since about 2006,” Roberts said. “I think (students) get a chance to understand the system of justice, see the courthouse ... and learn hopefully what not to do as an adult.”