Mark Twain I.S. students play judge, jury in new courtroom
Court is now in session at Mark Twain Intermediate School for the Gifted and Talented.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the grand opening on Friday, Dec. 14 of a student courtroom at Mark Twain I.S. at 2401 Neptune Ave. in Coney Island as a group of guests that included Councilmember Mark Treyger were invited to see members of the school debate team demonstrate their debate skills in front of the bench.
Treyger, a Democrat whose district includes Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst, secured $180,000 in city funding toward the project.
Located on the first floor, the courtroom/classroom has already been put to good use. Darren Kessler, the school’s law and justice instructor, has led sixth grade students in mock trials, taught the basics of the American justice system and helped the debate team prepare for citywide debates.
The mock trials took a page out of fairy tales and included “Village of Sheepfield v. Joey Wolfcryer,” a civil case in which sheep farmers sued the Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony gave the school a chance to show off the new facility to the community.
The courtroom, complete with a judge’s bench, a jury box, and tables and chairs for the defense and prosecution, was built in the school’s former printing shop. “The printing press is in the basement,” Principal Karen Ditolla told the guests.
“This is part of our mission here at Mark Twain, taking things from the past and then evolving and creating a different and more modern use for it,” Ditolla said.
The courtroom contains several touches designed to educate students. A bulletin board depicts prints of drawings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. On a back wall, a list of courtroom terms, like bailiff, due process, cross-examination, deliberate and verdict, is prominently posted.
A highlight of the ceremony came when Chloe Nudelman, Chiara Giardina, Kitty Wang and Victor Schacher, who are all members of the debate team, demonstrated their skills. Giardina and Nudelman took opposite sides on the question of whether the U.S. government should institute price controls on pharmaceuticals.
The courtroom will prove to be valuable to Mark Twain students, Schacher predicted. “It exposes these kids, us, to the world. We actually get to say something. We learn how to solve problems and learn to come up with ideas for new solutions,” he said.
“Life is about being able to present your ideas clearly,” Ditolla said, adding that learning about the law and taking part in mock trials will help students become better public speakers.
Treyger, who taught civics at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst before he entered politics, said he was impressed by the debate the students presented.
“As a former high school civics teacher, this was heaven for me,” he said.
Treyger applauded Ditolla and the school’s administration for creating the courtroom. “They’re not required to teach law or debate. They choose to do it,” he said. “These are skills young people will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
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