Menlo Park Academy (MPA), a Cleveland, Ohio-based non-profit public community school for gifted students, fielded two teams of middle school students at the 2023 Ohio Middle School Mock Trial competition, held on April 28th at the Supreme Court of Ohio / Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. This was the 12th year in a row that Menlo students competed, and this year’s teams continued the trend of earning high marks and awards, earning two “Outstanding” team rankings, three “Best Attorney” awards, and two “Best Witness” awards. Over its 12-year history, Menlo teams have garnered eight “Outstanding,” four “Superior” team rankings, and numerous “Best Attorney” and “Best Witness” awards.
Beginning this past fall, students grades 6-8 auditioned to earn one of 12 spots on each of Menlo’s two Mock Trial teams: Team Edison and Team Tesla. Those 24 students then spent many Friday afternoons after school throughout the school year researching and preparing both sides of a “case” given to them. Their case was delivered and formatted like a real court case; it included a case summary, trial briefs, and witness statements. This year’s case was based on the 1998 novel Holes by Louis Sachar and centered on Stanley Yelnats, a man sent to a correctional boot camp in a desert in Texas after being falsely accused of theft.
The students then practiced for months, acting as witnesses or attorneys, to prepare well-developed arguments for both sides of the case. The teams also worked on strategic questioning for their witnesses and learned to master presentation, public speaking, and persuasion skills.
Their time and effort all culminated in the competition in Columbus, where the two teams prosecuted their cases in the morning against teams from Garfield Middle School (Hamilton, OH) and Woodward Park Middle School (Columbus). They then switched to being the defense in the afternoon against Bethany Middle School (Cincinnati) and Harding Middle School (Steubenville).
For eighth-grade student Beth D., this was her second year in Mock Trial. “It’s been an interactive experience that lets us see what a future in law would look like. It’s also really fun to argue.” She continued, “It’s been a challenge and has helped me consider both sides of an argument, and not just for the case we were preparing. I’ve learned to better advocate a position, improved my public speaking and become more confident.”
Menlo’s owes its continued success at Ohio Middle School Mock Trial to the teams’ coaches, each an attorney and parent of Menlo students. Latha Srinivasan and Erin Armstrong started Mock Trial at Menlo as an elective during the 2012-2013 school year and have been coaching the teams as an after-school program ever since. Eric Steiger joined them in the 2021-2022 school year. Together, they have watched how hard their students have worked to prepare and how quickly they have caught on to the material, and they could not be more proud of their teams’ successes.
About Ohio Middle School Mock Trial
Conducted by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education (OCLRE), Ohio Middle School Mock Trial combines middle school students’ love of argument with a love of good literature. Middle School Mock Trial cases are literature-based, with cases constructed from books most commonly read in the middle grades. Students learn first-hand about the law, court procedures, and the judicial system while also building critical 21st-century skills.
Middle School Mock Trial cases are based on popular literature, written by teams of teachers and lawyers. Middle school students act as witnesses and attorneys to argue cases involving their favorite characters. The program was designed with Ohio’s Learning Standards for social studies and English/language arts in mind and is ideal for interdisciplinary teaching. Students read and analyze witness statements drawn from the characters in the books. Students then work collaboratively to develop arguments for both sides and develop strategies to question the witnesses.
OCLRE Mock Trial provides the opportunity for students to put together a coherent argument for their side of the case using furnished testimonials and physical evidence. The comprehensive approach includes reading a case summary, trial briefs, and witness statements.
About Menlo Park Academy
Menlo Park Academy is Ohio’s only tuition-free K-8 school for gifted children. MPA is a public, non-profit community school, with an economically and racially diverse student body of approximately 490 students from across northeast Ohio. The school is located on a renovated seven-acre campus that was formerly home to the abandoned Joseph & Feiss Clothing Co. on Cleveland’s near-west side.
The school is dedicated to providing exemplary, rewarding experiences that promote both learning and whole-child development, offering a curriculum with innovative acceleration and differentiation options.
Menlo is also consistently ranked as one of the top schools in Ohio. Niche, an organization that provides school rankings at the national, state, and local level, ranked MPA as the No. 1 Best Charter Elementary School and Charter Middle School in Ohio in its 2023 rankings, and the top 3 of all public elementary and middle schools in the state.
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