Courtroom drama tests eighth grade skills

The eighth grade mock trial entered the Zoom era this week.


The trial was once again based on the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The story of that tragedy, in which 146 workers lost their lives, allows for dramatic lines of questioning, allusions to systemic classism and sexism, and a constant testing of the boundary between cross-examining and badgering.


The mock trial project is an especially intense way to engage with history. Students need to internalize the material well in advance of the trial itself. The courtroom action, then, becomes a test of students' ability to collaborate, to communicate, to think on their feet, and to take bold risks.


Using Zoom meant that the trial could draw in a new range of parent, faculty and staff volunteers to play the role of witnesses. The talent this year included trial veterans like Arthur Riss, returning to the witness stand long after his youngest chid graduated from Gordon. Assistant to the Head of School Clare Blackmer especially shined in the spotlight, shedding real tears on the stand while portraying star witness Kate Alderman. Newcomer Rodney López put in a strong showing as well, with a commanding, authentic Bronx accent.

This year's trial represented generational passing of the torch, with Sophie Jackson '12 on the eighth grade teaching team, thirteen years after she was a member of the defense. Sophie's classmate August Kahn '12 was also part of the trial this year, serving as judge just as his father did back in 2011, and Emily Elder '12 was a volunteer witness.

The photos below are of August (foreground) as a judge this year, August and Emily Mungovan '12 at their eighth grade trial, and Sophie at hers. 

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