01/27/13 — Students fourth in N.C. legal tournament

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Students fourth in N.C. legal tournament

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 27, 2013 1:50 AM

In his first year as sixth-grade social studies teacher at Wayne School of Engineering, former attorney Jesse Pittard has provided his students with firsthand knowledge about the judicial system.

He put together two teams for the Justice Iredell Middle School Mock Trial Tournament. One became eastern regional champion in December and advanced to the state event earlier this month, finishing in fourth place.

Thirty teams competed at the state level, with 475 students participating, most of those upperclassmen.

"(Ours was) the only all sixth-grade team there. I think most of them were eighth and seventh and sixth," Pittard said. "There were only three (all) sixth-grade teams and we had two from this school. We're the only one that made it that far."

This is the third year for the tournament, described as an opportunity for middle school teachers to help increase students' skills with critical thinking, problem-solving, language arts and public speaking.

Pittard, who previously practiced law in Halifax County and Florida, is still licensed in the field. This is his third year putting together a student team for the mock trial.

Preparation began in September, he said.

"We held practices each morning, generally about 30 to 45 minutes before school started, sometimes during lunch and after school," he said. "They had to learn courtroom procedure and they had to learn basically how to behave in court, how to address the court.

"The great thing about this is I could teach them when to object, the facts and the patterns, what hearsay is, but when it comes to trial, it's all them. If a witness doesn't answer their question, they'd have to go back and adjust their questions. This tournament literally teaches students to think on their own feet."

Participation on the team was voluntary, the teacher said. He started out with 27 students, which later narrowed down to 22.

Students took on different rolls, typically attorney or witness, and were required to keep a trial notebook, which included evidence and a list of questions to ask.

"They had real judges who gave really good feedback," Pittard noted. "The N.C. Bar Association sets up different regional events. We went to Halifax County Courthouse and competed against different teams (for the region)."

While he praised his students with doing "a really good job" of learning the material, it was still a daunting task when they squared off against their competition.

"When we first got to regionals, they said, 'Oh, my God, they're so prepared,'" Pittard recalls. "But then they realized they were also well-prepared."

One team emerged the regional victor, with the chance to compete further at the state level.

But everyone in the group gained something, he said.

"What they walked away with was a great sense of confidence and their ability to speak," he said. "It was a really good process. The kids, to see how they have developed over it, just to see the growth, I'm really excited about next year."

Members of the winning team at the state level included Emmalee Bass, Kyle Candy, Navya Dixit, Peyton Holland, Ryan Kimble, Abigail Lewis, Selena Morales, David Rose, Jessica Ruiz, Addie Shirley, Monique Ward, Brianna Wilson and Nicholas Yelverton. Miss Bass and Miss Lewis also received "best attorney" awards.