Aspiring to land a future career in criminal justice, it was fitting for Madison Nestor to join the Tunkhannock Area High School Mock Trial Team.
Nestor joined in her sophomore year at the suggestion of a friend who knew about her career goals. Now as a senior, the team captain has plans to dual major in criminal justice and digita l forensics at Bloomsburg University.
Each year, the Pennsylvania Bar Association releases a hypothetical case with defense and plaintiff sides for students to use as the basis for competitive mock trials in a real courtroom.
Competing teams represent the opposite sides of the case, with students taking on roles such as attorneys and witnesses.
Students present opening and closing arguments, perform direct and cross examinations of witnesses, and more, all with the help of volunteer judges and attorneys.
Being on the team has made Nestor a quicker thinker, better speaker and stronger leader.
“It has shown me what hard work really leads to and how everything can come together when you put time in,” Nestor said.
Now in its fifth year after being resurrected, the team hasn’t only impacted students looking into related career paths.
“We’ve probably only had a handful of students that have actually said they were going to pursue a career in the field of law,” said Deborah Albert-Heise, an attorney adviser for the team. “However, the other students continue to come back to the team because they learn other skills.”
This includes, but isn’t limited to critical thinking, public speaking, teamwork and analyzing facts, all of which build up confidence for students.
“It’s designed to educate, engage and excite young people about law, and also teach them about the legal system,” she said. “A lot of kids graduate and they don’t really know anything about the legal system.”
The case alternates each year between civil and criminal. Albert-Heise, along with attorney adviser Tom Daniels and TAHS faculty adviser Angie Burke guide students as they prepare for competition.
In this year’s civil case, a student who was bullied sues a private school for allegedly not following its own bullying policy, Albert-Heise said. This scenario not only teaches students about negligence cases, but brings up a conversation about who has responsibility when it comes to preventing and reacting to bullying.
“It’s a very broad conversation that we get to have with the students,” she said. “Every year the hypothetical scenario that they give us for our case is always something that’s very relevant.”
The Tigers competed in the Region 5, District 2 qualifying rounds in late January, securing a spot in the semi-finals. Albert-Heise said the team lost in a close competition against Hazleton Area High School in the semi-finals on Monday.
Albert-Heise gave a shout out to the Wyoming/Sullivan County Bar Association for sponsoring the team, as well as the school district and surrounding community.
This year’s team has shown commitment and an eagerness to learn, she added.
“The students are amazing. They are very disciplined, very motivated,” Albert-Heise said. “They’re self starters for sure.”