The Honorable Bobbi Alpers presiding.
Court is now in session.
The events that followed Friday put Pleasant View fourth-graders behind the wheel of arguing and deliberating their very own court case.
A real judge at the bench added to the authenticity. Alpers kept order and instructed jury members much as she has for the last 17 years throughout the 7th Judicial District of Iowa. She even wore her black robe.
It was the case of the People of the State of Iowa vs. Big Bad Wolf. The conference room at the school district’s administrative building turned into a court room.
Witness testimony, opening and closing arguments, and direct and cross examination were conceived and followed through by fourth-graders enrolled in Pleasant View Elementary’s Extended Learning Program.
Fellow students at Pleasant View comprised the jury, which deliberated in their homerooms to come up with four separate verdicts.
There is no script, said MaryBeth Kunau, the teacher who’s put the trial on for the last 10 years. “The kids design the whole case from scratch.”
Pleasant View’s Extended Learning Program is for gifted and talented students. The trial allows them to learn the power of the question, Kunau said. “You can design a question to get certain pieces of information.”
The quiet students surprise the most by opening up during the course of the trial, she said.
Each year Kunau calls in outside help.
In addition to Judge Alpers, Davenport lawyers Mikkie Schiltz of Lane and Waterman LLP and Bob Gallagher Jr. of Gallagher, Millage and Gallagher advised the student lawyers.
“It surprises you how well prepared the fourth graders are,” Gallagher said. “It’s very rewarding seeing the kids light up.”
Schiltz said arguing a case is an opportunity for students to use critical thinking skills they learn in school.
And the parents couldn’t be more proud.
“All the kids did an excellent job,” said Lyn Lear, whose daughter, Sydney, gave the opening argument for the defense. “They were very professional.”
Sowbhagya Bangalore was excited for her daughter, Ramya Kumar, one of the prosecutors. “Everybody did good,” she said.
Alpers, who was a lawyer for nine years after being a Pleasant Valley High School teacher for five years “a long time ago,” had this advice for the student lawyers: “To be a lawyer, you need to be a good reader, a good writer and have a good sense of people.”