Two enthusiastic educators at Mount Airy Middle School have discovered that successful lessons in writing and government can end up in court.
Mock trials involving drug smuggling, attempted car theft, a workplace locker break-in, and vandalism at an art gallery inspired 135 seventh-grade Team III students to work above and beyond course requirements, said social studies teacher Melissa Adelmann.
The trials concluded lessons on the three branches of U.S. government.
From judges to court reporters, students were first required to research the roles of courtroom participants. Then in groups of seven, the students were given brief outlines of fictional trial cases.
Students were expected to create a full trial, complete with dialogue, witnesses, evidence and props. Rehearsals were encouraged because note cards were not allowed.
Ms. Adelmann said she was surprised by the snowball effect of the assignment and the students' "close attention to detail. All I told them was that they had to have one creative aspect."
Lessons in journalism were incorporated by requiring students to take notes during the trials they attended and write impartial, fact-filled accounts of one trial using newspaper format, said language arts teacher William Price. The young reporters were required to end their assignments with an "op-ed" piece.
Students attended school dressed for their roles -- some in suits and ties and with briefcases. Students rotated supporting roles, such as jurors and bailiffs. Some students took turns as courtroom artists.
From elaborate pictures that had been defaced by black paint in the vandalism case, to eye charts to test witnesses' vision, students brought in props to support their cases.
One mother sent stickers for jurors to wear, and Ms. Adelmann lent an old graduation robe to the judges who kept order with a wooden gavel borrowed from Mount Airy Middle School's Builders Club.
The courtroom performances were "very believable and dramatic," according to Ms. Adelmann. During the trials, the students were "dead silent" and leaned forward in their seats to catch each word. "They were riveted," she said.
"The most interesting part was being able to be a judge," said Justin Fogelman, 13, of Mount Airy, who presided over an attempted car theft trial.
Defense attorney Joey Cairns, 13, of Sykesville said he "enjoyed the battle" during his case about a locker theft. "Both sides can be very hostile at times."
Twelve-year-old Michele Hollars of Sykesville was "frustrated" because there wasn't enough evidence to convict a guilty defendant in one of the cases. "I like being the judge because I was in control of everything," she added.
Defense attorney Cara Petroski, 12, of Mount Airy said she was surprised by the importance of "being prepared" in court. "I learned that you can't think about what other people think."
A long-distance call to San Francisco was part of 13-year-old Alyssa McCorkle's preparation for her court case.
"I called my aunt who is a lawyer," said Alyssa, who lives in Mount Airy. "I got a lot of information."
The joint teaching project produced surprising results and brought out the best in all students, according to the two teachers.
Parents and staff at Mount Airy Elementary School are invited to shake off the winter doldrums Monday at the school's monthly PTA meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the cafetorium.
Important financial issues will be discussed at the meeting, which was originally scheduled for March 20. Members also are encouraged to think about running for a PTA office -- the election of next school year's officers is scheduled for the April meeting. For information, call (301) 829-1515.
Mount Airy's annual series of Community Lenten Lunches begins at noon Wednesday at Calvary United Methodist Church, 403 S. Main St.
The Rev. Robert Herzog of St. James Episcopal Church in Mount Airy will lead devotions on repentance at the first luncheon.
Members of St. James will provide soup, sandwiches and beverages, and members of Prospect/Marvin United Methodist Churches will provide child care after the meal.
Lunches are also scheduled March 22 with the Rev. Carol Yocum of Calvary United Methodist Church; March 29 with the Rev. Basil Day Jr. of Howard Chapel/Ridgeville United Methodist Church; and April 5 with the Rev. Wendy Shullenbarger of Prospect/Marvin Chapel United Methodist Church.
All devotions and lunches will last from noon to 1 p.m. and will be held at Calvary Church.
No fee is charged for lunch or child care but an offering will be collected to benefit the Mount Airy NET food pantry. For information, call (301) 829-0358.
Fried chicken, roast beef and ham will be the fare at the family-style dinner March 18 at Winfield Fire Hall, 1320 W. Old Liberty Road.
The fund-raiser for Salem United Methodist Church begins at noon and will feature a bake table. The cost will be $8 for adults, $3 for children 6 to 12 years, and $9 for carryouts.