The “From the Desk Of” series is my regular email to the Valley Torah High School community.
This year as part of our continued expansion of opportunities for our students to take on leadership positions, explore their passions and nurture their creativity the Valley Torah Boys School joined the 2015-16 season of Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Los Angeles County 38th Annual Mock Trial Competition. We were excited to join, but being our first year we were unfamiliar with the rules and process. We also had a significant break with the chagim at the start of the year and all of our potential lawyer coaches fell through. Yet, we did not let any of that stop us. We moved forward and opened up tryouts with only three weeks left to the first competition. Nineteen students tried out and fourteen made the team. With our team in place, myself and Mr. Schaefer, our new English teacher, stepped up to coach the team (that gave the team a combined law experience amount of zilch) with only two weeks to prepare.
We met every breakfast, every lunch and after school for two weeks. We went to the first round last week with the simple goal of not embarrassing ourselves. As our first case of our Mock Trial competition history ended it was clear we did anything but. As the prosecution team, we went head to head with another school that that had been doing Mock Trial for years. We did not win the case, but the judge told us afterwards that she could not tell we were new to Mock Trial. As we left the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse that night our heads were held high but there was no time to relax and appreciate the accomplishment. We had our second round in one week and we had work to do.
Once again, we prepped every breakfast and every lunch. Knowing round two was going to be tougher, the student lawyers could be seen in the hallways writing their closing arguments. Our witnesses could be heard practicing their stories as they walked up the stairs. The bailiff was even once seen swearing in teachers as they entered class. When Monday night of this week rolled around, we were ready! We entered that courtroom with the conviction (yea, I said it) of a well oiled legal machine.
As we predicted, round two was no picnic. Our team was now the defense and we were up against another experienced team with a judge who was not messing around. Still, we kept our wits about us and gave our arguments, motions, cross-examinations, rebuttals and objections. In fact, the team was so passionate that we even accidently objected to ourselves once or twice. However, in the end, I am happy to say that the client we defended had all the charges dropped and we won the case! Not only did we win it, we scored 84 more points than we did in the first round case!
Is this a cinderella story? Maybe, but what it represents to me is what Valley Torah is all about and who our students are. We did not win because we had years of Mock Trial experience and preparation. The team was prepared to win because of the courses they take here, the co-curricular program they engage in and the integration and importance placed in and outside of the classrooms on creativity, communication, problem solving and leadership skills. They prepared highly crafted and well written opening and closing arguments that speaks volumes to our English department. They critically analyzed the case and developed sharply focused questions for the witnesses which speaks to the skills cultivated from their in-depth Gemara classes. Also, to see the way the lawyers and witnesses were able to think on their feet spoke to our improvisational arts program that many on the team have been apart of.
At Valley Torah we feel a strong responsibility to prepare our students for their future with various success skills, academic competencies and core content knowledge. Yet, we also know that we must not only help them understand the knowledge that they learn here, but we must empower them and give them the skills to apply that knowledge to their world. This is what we do here at Valley Torah and I am confident that is why we won that second round Mock Trial case. Where to next? Well the National Mock Trials are held in Boise, Idaho, so maybe not this year, but BOISE HERE WE COME!
Click here to see photos from Round One
Click here to see photos from Round Two