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Saint Nicholas Seventh Graders Participate in Mock Trial

Saint Nicholas seventh graders participate in a mock trial with Judge Manoukian at the Superior Courthouse in San Jose.

Saint Nicholas School is a proud institution chock-full of unique time-honored traditions that are built around the principles of creating students who are Christ-like citizens, community leaders, and critical thinkers. This May marked the 26th anniversary of one of the most unique traditions in the school’s history; the seventh grade Mock Trial.

The Mock Trial gives students the opportunity to put their Christ-like minds, leadership abilities, and critical thinking skill sets to great use. The students of Saint Nicholas would never have had the opportunity to participate in such an educational and profoundly thought-provoking experience if it were not for long time parishioner and alumni parent the Honorable Peter Socrates Manoukian.

Judge Manoukian lives for his family, the law, and educating the leaders of tomorrow. When he was appointed to the bench 26 years ago he immediately reached out to the school to try to inspire tomorrow’s leaders. Thus started Saint Nicholas’s Mock Trial. The Judge has since invited the students, parents, and staff into his courtroom to watch real court proceedings for the past 26 years. He has also given the students the platform to experience a potential Mock Trial.

Over the years, Judge Manoukian switched from civil court to criminal court and suggested that, in order to further educate our students, the teachers find Mock Trial cases that hit home to the life lessons and decisions they could face as teenagers and young adults. The seventh grade homeroom teachers, therefore, moved their focus to cases on teenage drinking, drug use, and theft. By bringing the realities of poor decisions and un-Christlike behavior into the classroom, and ultimately the courtroom, the teachers and students were able to create an even more profound and sobering educational experience.

This year Mrs. Von Raesfeld’s seventh grade students embarked on their Mock Trial preparations at the beginning of May as they were completing their argument writing and debate units. Each student was assigned a position which included: judge, prosecution lawyers, defense lawyers, a defendant, witnesses, bailiffs, recorder/clerk, and jury members. Each student had background information on the case, as well as witness testimonies to help with depositions and preparations of opening and closing statements. Mrs. Von Raesfeld guided the students when needed, but ultimately just supervised the entire process to allow creativity and critical thinking skills to flourish.

On the day of the trial the students, parents, and some staff members gathered at the Superior Courthouse in Downtown San Jose to enjoy a day of watching authentic criminal sentencing and conducting their own Mock Trial. The students did an incredible job executing their trial, right down to the objections and the quick-witted cross-examination questioning. Although the students prepared and rehearsed prior to the big day, many aspects of the trial are not heard until the day of, to allow the jury the opportunity to hear all arguments without much pre-bias.

The students were elated by the entire experience and we were grateful for time Judge Manoukian took out of his schedule to accommodate this unique lesson. We will continue to fully immerse our students in authentic learning experiences such as this Saint Nicholas School tradition.