UPDATE: Check out Scott King’s photo gallery here.
Debate-team students representing all four of APS’ School Reform Teams squared off Wednesday at Communities in Schools Atlanta‘s First Annual Middle School Moot Court by presenting their oral arguments for a select issue that affects Georgia students. The competition featured presentations by Kennedy (SRT-1) vs. Parks (SRT-2) and King vs. B.E.S.T. Academy in an argument of whether to overturn a recent Georgia law raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18 from 16. (King and Parks argued for keeping the age at 18.)
The competition was held at the Fulton County Government’s Assembly Hall, and the students were really put the test in presenting their arguments to a panel led by Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein. Students made about a five-minute argument and then fielded questions from the panel. The winning team will be announced as an awards ceremony on May 11.
In stating his case for upholding the new law, King seventh-grader Marquis Trammell represented his team by arguing that keeping students in high school allows them to take advantage of all that schools have to offer and not just the vocational skills afforded them should they choose to drop out. “I’m a person that likes to talk and get my point across,” Trammell said, “and I felt that I could use these skills to represent our school.”
Trammell and his teammates — Darius Hamlett, Zoe Coleman and Javantai Henderson — saw the experience as giving them the kind of prepration they seek to move on to high school and beyond. “I want to be a lawyer, so this was a great opportunity for me,” said eighth-grader Hamlett. “The hardest part was making the brief, because it is a lot different from just writing an essay. Everything about this was new for us.” Coleman found the greatest challenge when the judicial panel questioned her on their brief. “I had a lot of thoughts in my head, and I had a hard time responding,” she noted. “But this really helps me in that situation. I was a very shy person, and this builds my confidence.
The team had some impressive coaching help. Teacher and coach Tom Dunn is a former attorney who for years defended Georgia death-row inmates, once presenting arguments before (you guessed it) Chief Justice Hunstein. All schools enlisted the help of area law students. Dunn had help from first-year Georgia State University law student Nicole Comparetto, a former Fain Elementary teacher. (The two also once worked for Teach for America.)
“It’s very important for students to try something new,” explained Dunn, who’s been featured in the New York Times. “Education is about expanding your horizons and trying new experiences, and getting up in a room this big, with this many people, and presenting these arguments will help them later in life. It’s about pushing students to do their very best. And it’s obviously about an issue that’s very relevant to their community.”
The students were treated to an introduction by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. The other judicial panelists were Judge Johnny Mason, of the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation; Professor Roy Sobelson, of Georgia State University’s College of Law; Staff Attorney Nancy Millar, U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th District; and Staff Attorney Sarah Rasalam, U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th District.
“This competition is to showcase APS middle schooler students in a positive light,” Bevin Carpenter, graduation coach for both Kennedy and King. “We as adults are always looking for solutions for the challenges that face our children. But, like in the business world, to be effective, one must conduct focus groups to hear from the source. Moot court is a way to allow our future leaders have a voice and help with the solutions to the challenges they will face in this 21st century.”
Here are the participating students:
B.E.S.T. Academy: Kasadera Todd, Reginald McGee, David Alexander, Jabir Donaldson
King: Marquis Trammell, Darius Hamlett, Zoe Coleman, Javantai Henderson
Kennedy: Bashel Lewis, Toni McBride, Tianna Startford, D’Ariel Myrick
Parks: Jarod Harper, Arnesha Stroud, Morris Johnson, Emiani Harris
The CIS Moot Court’s goal is to expose students to new environments and role models, and facilitates improvements in students’ research, public speaking and critical thinking skills. The ultimate goal is to help young people transform from potential dropouts to successful leaders.