DOWNEY - Students from Gauldin Elementary's K-kids Club and East Middle School's Builders Club (fifth and sixth graders) stood before Bellflower Superior Court Judge Deborah L. Sanchez on Aug. 5 to present their case in a live mock trial sponsored by Bellflower District Attorney and Kiwanis member Mario Trujillo.The Criminal Case: People V. Tracey Smith, was about an 18-year-old defendant who was arrested for bringing a firearm to school. The defendant had been bullied by a group of students and had never sought help. Smith's cousin, a gang member, offered her a gun and three bullets, promising her that if she showed the bullies the weapon, the problem would go away. Smith felt pressured by her cousin and took the gun to school where she was caught by her teacher and later arrested. In order to participate, students had to take a 10-week course called L.E.A.D (Legal Enrichment And Decision-making) during the 2010-11 school year. The course was taught by the Assistant District Attorney Lily Keenan who sacrificed many of her lunch breaks to teach the students about the legal and social consequences of gang affiliation, illicit drug use, truancy, and other crimes. Students researched their case and practiced their roles of attorneys and witnesses to argue their case for the prosecution or defense. "It was a very high-level activity," said parent Norma Guzman, "It took a great deal of critical thinking and challenged the students to develop excellent presentation and public speaking skills." Jasmine Mijangos, a fifth-grader at Gauldin Elementary School, had the opportunity to cross-examine two witnesses as a defense attorney. "I learned to think on my feet and be ready for anything that is thrown at me," she said. Roger Minguia, a seventh-grader from East Middle School, said he was inspired and wanted to come back again to play the role of prosecutor. "I think that I'll change," Roger says, already planning his strategy. "I'll be a strict prosecutor, and try to tweak my argument based on what the other side is doing." The trial ended with the defendant found guilty and the judge setting a future date for sentencing. After the trial, Judge Sanchez praised the students for their excellent preparation and attention to detail. She encouraged them to continue to excel in their academics so that maybe one day they too can become judges, lawyers, or district attorneys. "Overall, this experience provided the students with a challenging academic competition, teaching them the importance of research, presentation, teamwork, communication, and leadership skills," said teacher Alex Gaytan. "The student participants and their parents would like to extend their gratitude to the following community members: Bellflower District Attorney Mario Trujillo(Downey resident), Downey Kiwanis Club, Assistant District Attorney Lily Keenan, and Judge Deborah L. Sanchez," the clubs said in a statement. "Each of them contributed their time and expertise, helping the students tremendously."
********** Published: September 15, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 22