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Twenty-four Greater Atlanta Adventist Academy (GAAA) students appeared in an Atlanta, Georgia, courtroom on Thursday, April 11, 2019 — not as juvenile delinquents or menaces to society, but as bold bailiffs, passionate plaintiffs, determined defendants, magisterial members of the jury, and amazing attorneys. Fern Clarke, Ph.D., criminology coach, and Sylvan Lashley, M.A., M.B.A., Ed.D., J.D., GAAA/BCJA principal and leadership and legal studies teacher, were there to coach the students.

The 2018-2019 academic year was the introductory year for the leadership and legal studies class at GAAA. Sophomore, junior, and senior students have spent the school year exploring many aspects of the legal system, including the biblical origins of justice; the birth of the Constitution; the birth of the legal system; and a comparison of the United States legal system to African, European, and Asian legal systems. The students have also researched aspects of law, including civil law, criminal law, contract law, torts, and the juvenile justice system.

In January the GAAA students were presented with the opportunity to participate in a mock trial. The 45-page document, State v. Capulet, was presented to the students. The case is one used by high school students across the country in mock trials. Over the course of three months, the students studied each aspect of the case. Defending legal teams and prosecuting legal teams, together with volunteer professional attorneys and their respective student clients, devised a plan for presenting their arguments.

On court day, the students went before Linda Walker, United States magistrate chief judge, at the Richard B. Russell Federal Building and United States Courthouse in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, to participate in full court proceedings. Every aspect was facilitated by GAAA students — bailiff, prosecuting attorneys, and defending attorneys — with Judge Walker presiding. “It was an incredible experience,” George Cartwright, member of the class of 2019, stated. “It was fascinating to be able to explore the intricate innerworkings of the United States legal system, and to participate in the mock trial. Judge Walker made time to give us valuable feedback about our presentations. It was an unforgettable experience.”

Clarke remarked, “I was thoroughly impressed and proud of the GAAA students. I was able to see how determined and dedicated they were, the time they devoted, and how seriously they took the trial. They exceeded my expectations and outdid themselves.”

The future aspirations for the leadership and legal studies class include participating in a mock trial at the state competition with public and other elite private schools meeting to compete and debate. The students will receive accommodations so they will not be required to compete during Sabbath hours. For more information on the leadership and legal studies curriculum, or to partner with the school in traveling to the state competition, please contact Lashley at