By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Dressed in a black suit and tie, Javier Diaz stood confidently in front of the jury as he made closing arguments proving the City of Lowell was not responsible for a teenager who fell into a manhole preventing him from playing sports.
Diaz , an eighth grader, will be a freshman in high school next year and maybe one day will get a law degree. He was the “attorney” representing the City of Lowell in a mock trial held at Lawrence District Court.
“It was the best thing because I had fun. I learned how to speak in public and how to treat people in court,” Diaz said.
Diaz and his classmates at the Arlington School and their counterparts at Wetherbee School took part in 10-week program learning how the court system works. The classes alternated between the two schools on Thursdays and included mock trials last month in the Fenton Judicial Center.
Retired Judge Kevin Herilhy and Attorney Michael Hogan taught students everything from the layout of the courtroom, courtroom etiquette, interviewing witnesses, and rehearsing opening and closing statements. In addition to Herlihy and Hogan, students heard from assistant district attorneys, lawyers and court officers.
Students were taught to stand up straight, have self-confidence, listen attentively so they can respond correctly and speak slow as not to stumble on their words.
Judge Mark Newman of the Juvenile Court Division heard the case argued by Javier Diaz for the Arlington School.
Students from the Wetherbee presented a mock civil case about a student who was illegally searched after being suspected of spraying graffiti on school property because he had streaks from markers on his hands. Associate Justice Jose A. Sanchez presided over that case.
In the jury box were police officers, local residents and retired teachers.
After the “not guilty” verdict, Sanchez praised students for their job well done in their roles as witnesses, lawyers, plaintiff.
“As a judge who does this every day, I see you have done an incredible job,” he said.
Newman was just as proud of the students who participated in the mock trial in his courtroom.
“I think they were exceptionally attentive. The depth of their knowledge of the law was inspiring. It was awesome; each of them were so focused and seemed to enjoy the procedure,” Newman said.
This is the second year students in Nicole Pellerin’s class have participated in the mock trial and the first time for students at Arlington School.
In addition to the classroom learning, Arlington School students visited the courthouse and met with Newman. He told the students he was inspired to go into law after watching the Perry Mason show which aired on television from 1957-1966. Newman even showed them old shows.
“I wanted them to feel comfortable. They are anxious about participating in something new,” the judge said.
Arlington School teacher Jack Salvetti said students learned more than just civics, law and the judicial system.
“They also incorporated their reading, English, critical thinking and personal speaking skills in the process,” he said.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment because the students learn from day one until the last day,” said Pellerin. “It was really enlightening to see the final product.”
Participation was made possible by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers of the U.S. Dept. of Education.
“I’m most proud of their dedication to the program,” Kathleen McDonough of the 21st Century program said of the children. “Being in the program is a learning experience to gain faith and confidence in themselves.”
The 21st Century Centers provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools., and helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects and offers enrichment activities that can complement regular academic programs.