Fifth-graders across Nevada County attended the annual Law Day at the Nevada County Courthouse Friday to experience a first-hand account of the local criminal justice and court system.
About 700 students were given the opportunity to tour the old jail, speak with former Juvenile Hall inmates about their experience and participate in a mock trial where students played the role of judge, jury, bailiff, attorneys, etc., said Nicky Brown, fifth-grade teacher at Lyman Gilmore Middle School, who has attended the event the last six years.
“To actually see government in action provides experiential learning and enhances learning,” she said. “We may learn from textbooks or do different projects in class, but to be in the location provides further support of their understanding. It’s really fun.”
The experience not only educates students on the legal system in conjunction with U.S. history and government curriculum but also offers a positive experience in a setting that can be commonly misconstrued as negative, Brown said.
“I think some students have a negative impression of what police officers might do or what the courts do, but when they see and meet people with those types of professions, they see it’s a real, respectful position they have and they’re helping people in the community and make government just and fair,” she said. “I think it provides a positive impact.”
The event began as a collaboration between the court and Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Office during a time when Paula Carli was the court executive officer and Terence K. McAteer was the superintendent of schools, said Nevada County Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka.
“I don’t know who came up with the idea, but they requested somewhere along the line to have the fifth-grade students from the county, as part of their government education, to have them interact with the court, so we worked with the schools to establish a program,” he said.
The program originally included the jail tour and mock trial and expanded years later to include youth participants from juvenile drug court, Metroka said.
“They’re typically in their mid- to late teens and share with the young students what their experiences have been and how they’ve managed to overcome their problems,” he said.
Such exposure gives students a chance to connect with people who are closer to their age range to provide a deeper impact, Metroka said.
“When (students) listen to law enforcement officers walk them through the trial process, it is a little bit removed from them because they are adults, but when we get younger people talking to them, it seems to make a more clear connection for them,” he said. “That was part of why we decided we would get volunteers from our juvenile drug court program.”
Law Day provides an educational experience but also shows students the consequences of criminal behavior, Metroka said, adding, “The underlying reason, of course, is to help them remember they don’t want to be on that side of the system.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.