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How the Mock Trial Program at North Central gives AP Government Students Real-World Experience

Imagine 86th Street, in front of North Central High School, littered with cones and police cars. They are asking every third car to pull over and be subjected to a random stop. They are looking for drugs in an effort to keep them off school property. A police dog circles the vehicle and erupts when it smells something suspicious. A man, not affiliated with the high school, is asked to exit his vehicle. The car is searched, drugs are found and the man is arrested.

Was that a legal search? Was the man’s Constitutional Rights violated by this random search? Is a school zone on the street a part of school property?

Chris Vermilion with final instructions to his students before a Mock Trial begins

All of those questions are on the minds of North Central’s Advanced Placement (AP) Government students as the issue goes on trial in one of several Mock Trial sessions. That case (the school and street fictionalized so as not to add extra student emotion) are one of several distributed by Chris Vermilion, department chair, who oversees the program. Students rotate throughout the week, getting time as judges, attorneys and observers. For those arguing the case in front of the Supreme Court, the assignment is simple: research, prepare and orate. While the final grade has more to do with the effort, there is a winner and a loser (the student judges craft a majority opinion, and the class observers pick a winner too), which may be more important to the students than any A, B or C.

“The project itself represents the best of International Baccalaureate ideals because it focuses on real world application of the content by having the students role play either a lawyer or judge position with the help of professionals in their community,” Vermilion said.

That last part is what makes the program truly unique. This fall, thanks to the assistance of an NC parent, one Indiana Supreme Court Justice and three Indiana Court of Appeals Judges were able to participate in the program at various times. Their presence on the bench, alongside the students, gave those arguing their case a chance to test their case against the real deal. While the students sweat it out a bit, the judges have left thoroughly impressed.

“I was really impressed with the preparation each of you showed,” Judge Cale J. Bradford (North Central ’78) told one group. “You were better than some attorneys that come before me.”

That encouragement has led Vermilion to think bigger. Thanks to a recent grant from the Advancement Center, the Mock Trial program is looking to expand the opportunity for both students and outside observers. It is getting bigger.

“I am excited about creating equal opportunity for all of our AP and College Prep students,” Vermilion added. I am excited about the opportunity to treat Indiana Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justices like celebrities. In the past, judges have come in for one to two periods, given feedback, then left, but I want them to see that North Central and the Social Studies Department values their time and wants to say ‘thank you.'”

The additional grant money will allow for judges to stay at North Central longer, provide more materials for the Mock Trial courtrooms and energize the program beyond the walls of the high school. Consider the program to only be in the opening argument phase!

The Advancement Center was happy to invest in this program for 2016-17 and beyond. Help us reward creative thinking by our teachers and enrich the lives of our students by donating to the Annual Fund today.

Judge Bradford (North Central ’78), left, sits on the “Supreme Court” with student judges