May 21, 2011 in City

Students weigh fairy tale evidence

Mock trial lets children butt heads in courtroom
By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photoBuy this photo

Skyway Elementary School third-grader Isabella Lawson gets some acting advice from her mother, Estella Lawson, before the start of the mock trial at the Kootenai County Courthouse in Coeur d’Alene on Friday. The mock trial was based on “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”
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In the end, it was a simple case of self-defense.

Although the defendants did not dispute sending the plaintiff to the hospital with compound fractures in both legs, the jury voted 8-4 to acquit them on trespassing and assault charges.

The plaintiff, after all, had threatened to eat the defendants.

On Friday morning in a Kootenai County courtroom, 85 Skyway Elementary School third-graders put the three Billy Goats Gruff of fairy tale fame on trial for trespassing on the troll’s property and assaulting him by butting him off a bridge into the water below.

The mock trial was the culmination of three weeks of civics lessons, using fairy tales to learn about the legal system, the duties of citizenship, and the importance of critical thinking and character traits like personal responsibility.

The program is in its 18th year, and was started by then-third-grade teacher Paula Marano when she began at Ramsey Elementary School in 1994. She came up with the idea and talked her husband, now-retired Magistrate Judge Eugene Marano, into presiding over the court.

“It’s become quite a tradition,” Paula Marano said.

When Marano transferred to Skyway, the program went with her. When she retired, other teachers took it over, although Marano still directs the action as a volunteer. She said that when she runs into former students, the main thing they remember about her class is the trial of Billy Goats Gruff or Goldilocks, which is used in alternating years.

Over the years, additional roles have been added, including those of news reporters, for Channel 6 Northwest Fairy Tale News, and that of a student judge, played this year by Grace Hite, 8. As the prosecution and defense presented their cases, Hite sat on the bench with Judge Marano, both of them robe-clad and peering down severely over the tops of their glasses.

Students in the scripted mock trial play all the roles and dress for their parts, including the defense, prosecution, witnesses and jurors.

Mr. Troll – played by Nicole Cicero, 8 – hobbled to the stand on crutches. The troll sounded convincing until he admitted, under cross-examination, that he had, in fact, threatened to eat the billy goats.

One by one, each billy goat took the stand and said they only wanted to graze upon the green grasses in the meadow beyond the bridge. The jury, and the audience, appeared convinced by the time the third goat, William E. Gruff, played by Connor Dremann, 9, took the stand.

“He said he was going to eat me up,” Dremann exclaimed. “It was self-defense.”

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