In a normal year, it’s a curricular that requires courage and persistence: mock trial. It’s even more challenging during a pandemic with all practices and competitions moved online.
Mock trial—organized by the Iowa State Bar Association—offers a unique opportunity for young students to learn the rules of evidence, gain a glimpse into the court system, and develop lifelong communication skills. Honing their ability to think on their feet in middle school helps these legal eagles soar throughout school and later in life. Additionally, Iowa is one of only a few states in the nation that has a middle school mock trial program.
“Many think that mock trial is too challenging for middle school students; actually, these students are quite capable of doing mock trial,” explains Shannon Haas, PACT program manager and mock trial sponsor at Harding Middle School.
Four teams at Harding and one at Franklin Middle School competed in the 2020 state competition. “I’m so proud of all my students, and excited for the eighth grade team who went to state,” says Deb Siebenga, PACT program manager and mock trial sponsor at Franklin.
Middle school students across the state have been preparing for competitions since the start of the school year. Once the case is posted publicly in August, students prepare their roles as attorneys and witnesses. Attorneys must write and memorize their own scripts—which can include 50 to 100 questions—and witnesses prepare to bring the drama to the court. Students must be prepared to argue both sides of the case in competition.
“Through this experience, students gain strong communication, persuasion, and collaboration skills,” explains Deb. “Some students meet outside of practice because they want to improve their skills even more.”
Adapting mock trial practices and competitions to a virtual environment has been a challenge. In fact, Iowa is likely one of very few—if not the only—middle school programs to go virtual in the nation.
Adding to the difficulties of going virtual, Cedar Rapids middle school teams were delayed several weeks by the August 10 derecho storm damage. “I feel that students did an excellent job despite going virtual and their disadvantages from the derecho,” explains Shannon. “They had a resilience and dedication—while maintaining a middle school humor—that was exciting to see in young people.”
“It’s an amazing feat for anyone to find success in this virtual environment, especially with a communication-intensive activity such as mock trial,” Shannon adds. “Having to do mock trial virtually has allowed them to grow in different ways. They are doing a marvelous job.”
“The Franklin eighth grade team missed state last year by just a couple of points, so they really wanted it this year,” explains Deb. “That’s dedication.”
The middle school state mock trial competition began Tuesday, Dec.1 and ended Saturday, Dec. 5.
2020 Middle School State Mock Trial Results
State Champions - Harding Middle School Team WKX
State Semi-Finalists - Franklin Middle School Team NNY
7th Place - Harding Middle School Team IPE
8th Place - Harding Middle School Team CIC
State Qualifier - Harding Middle School Team NDM
Best State Attorney - Slader Buckheister, Harding Middle School
Best State Attorney - Lillian Cogdill, Harding Middle School
Best State Attorney - Brian Li, Franklin Middle School
Best State Attorney - Camryn Meyer, Harding Middle School
Best State Witness - Mikayla Morris, Harding Middle School
Best State Witness - Ellison Pierce, Harding Middle School