Bethlehem Elementary School students moved from the classroom to the courtroom Thursday in a lesson on the United States legal system.
The fifth-grade students of teacher Pattie Dorfner took part in a mock trial in the courtroom of West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling. The students served as attorneys, jurors, witnesses and court officials in a simulated trial that involved charges of the illegal use of prescription drugs.
Wheeling Attorney Michael E. Hooper, of the law firm Jackson Kelly, served as the judge for the proceeding.
Photo by Fred Connors - Sitting on the bench at a mock trial at Independence Hall in Wheeling are Bethlehem Elementary fifth graders, from left, Billy Gooch, Hollee Armstrong and Loryn Ramsey, shown with Judge Michael E. Hooper.
Dorfner said fifth grade students throughout Ohio County Schools take part in the mock trials and this was the fourth year Bethlehem students held one. She said the trials provide important lessons for the students, and allowing them to serve as court officials increases their awareness of their rights.
Dorfner said the students learn interpersonal skills such as listening and cooperating, and the lesson also improves the students' oral and critical thinking skills.
Mock trials are typically held at the school.
This year, however, Bethlehem students were afforded a unique opportunity when Independence Hall Manager Travis Henline, father of student Sofia Henline, asked Dorfner if she would like to hold the mock trial in a real courtroom. Dorfner said she wasted no time in accepting the offer, and her students are grateful for the opportunity.
"This year was unique, and it was very exciting," she said. "Holding the proceeding in a real courtroom gives the students an understanding of the legal system they could not receive in the regular school setting. It was something they will remember, and it was an amazing opportunity."