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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane third-graders get their day in court as part of mock trial field trip

Jurors, attorneys, defendants and witnesses filed into a Spokane County Courtroom Wednesday morning with one key difference from the usual courthouse crowd: They were all in the third grade.

On trial was Mr. Toad, the mischievous character from the classic “The Wind in the Willows.”

The mock trial was an interactive learning experience for teacher Amy Bonanno’s class from Spokane International Academy, a local charter school.

The students have done a lot of work in their reading and writing curriculum on the classic story, Bonanno said.

When Spokane County Superior Court Judge Marla Polin, whose daughter is in the class, invited them down to the courthouse, the field trip was a no-brainer for Bonanno.

“I thought it was amazing,” Bonanno said of the idea. “It was probably a great opportunity for students to get real life exposure for the civics and the community.”

Students’ families were excited too. Bonanno had to take chaperone requests on a first-come, first-serve basis because so many people wanted to tag along.

“They’ve been pretty invested in it,” she said of students and their families.

Each student was assigned a role, from attorney to juror, along with scripts to read at each stage of the proceedings.

“I am Toad’s Lawyer and this is Toad,” Lennox Seabolt, 8, confidently announced when asked.

Seabolt’s dad, Dewey Seabolt, smiled from the gallery as he watched his son.

“He definitely wanted me to be a part of it,” Seabolt said. “I think it’s pretty awesome you get to see the kids’ personalities.”

Students were led through the court process by Polin and her judicial assistant, Erin Brown.

Brown explained what a jury does and facilitated students “testifying” about how Toad escaped by lying that he was a washerwoman in costume and stealing from the townspeople, just like in the students’ book.

After hearing evidence in the case, the jury voted unanimously to convict Toad, to the surprise of no one who has read the book.

Students then got the chance to take their own fingerprints on a special card with the characters from the book emblazoned on them.

The field trip was a chance for students to apply their knowledge to a real world framework, but also to learn about careers.

It’s not just being a judge or an attorney, Polin said. Students learned about court clerks, judicial assistance and court reporters, too.

“I don’t think court should be a mystery,” Polin said.

The court system should be available to the community, she said.

Richard Baldwin, whose grandson is in the class, said he was impressed with the field trip, not just because of how well Bonanno planned and executed it – even taking all 24 children on a city bus to get to the courthouse – but because of how much he learned.

“Even as parents… we’ve learned to respect our system,” he said.