DZ students relive history in mock trials

Dimond Courthouse turns classroom for Boston Massacre study

Posted: Sunday, December 13, 2009

A courtroom at the Dimond Courthouse transformed into a classroom this week as roughly 115 Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School students participated in mock trials that let them delve into American history.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Four classes of seventh and eighth graders taught by Jamie and Corrine Marks explored the different perspectives of the Boston Massacre that took place on March 5, 1770, which played a key role in the build up of the American Revolution. The students reenacted the trial of Captain Thomas Preston and his British soldiers who were tried for murder after opening fire on a crowd of civilians, resulting in the deaths of five people.

"We like to do the reenactment so we can really make it alive for them, more realistic instead of just reading in the history textbook so they can feel what the different perspectives were like for people at the time," Corrine Marks said.

Eighth-grade student Gracie Meiners said the assignment was a lot more fun than your typical history lesson.

"It was a lot more fun than taking a test on the Boston Massacre, that's for sure," she said.

Fellow eighth grader Sarah Cerne agreed.

"I think I learned a lot more from this experience rather than just learning out of the textbook," she said. "It was one of the best school projects I've ever done."

While the teachers hold the mock trials every other year, being able to reenact the historic trial in a real courtroom was a special experience, Corrine Marks said.

"This is the first year that we have been able to come to the courthouse," she said. "(Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins) was really instrumental in helping set up the time and setting aside a courtroom for us. It's been great."

It was a lot of fun to have the mock trial at the Dimond Courthouse, Meiners said.

"It was pretty nerve wracking at first, but once we got going it was pretty fun," she said.

And while the outcome of the historic trial led to the acquittal of six soldiers and manslaughter convictions for two others, the results of the mock trials are based upon how well the students do at presenting their cases.

"We have parent volunteers come in and act as jurors," Marks said. "They determine the outcome based on how well the students do, just like a real court."

It takes a lot of preparation for the students to get ready for the trials, she added.

"The students write and develop all their own questions as attorneys," Marks said. "The witnesses all have to memorize their roles and understand them so that they can answer questions ... in character."

The students are not only learning about history and court proceedings, they learn critical thinking skills and a key lesson that every story has multiple perspectives, Corrine Marks said.

Meiners, who played a defense attorney, said she learned more about the court process and how to turn statements into questions.

"It's a lot of hard work but it pays off in the end," she said. "When you're done you feel so accomplished."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com



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