Classical Conversations

Acting as a defense attorney, Denham Springs Classical Conversations student Colleen Thames questions a witness during a mock trial at the Livingston Parish Council Chambers on Monday, April 8.

LIVINGSTON -- Court was officially in session inside the Livingston Parish Council Chambers.

That was where 22 homeschoolers from Classical Conversations campuses in Denham Springs, Hammond and Baton Rouge performed a mock trial, the big end-of-the-year assignment for Challenge B students.

Students from Denham Springs and Hammond teamed up to take on the students from Baton Rouge during the mock. They were tasked with arguing both sides of an actual murder trial from North Carolina in the late 1980s.

The students spent more than four months preparing for the trial, said Classical Conversations director Catherine Dyson, of the Denham Springs campus. The primary objective was for students to “apply analytical, rhetorical and critical thinking skills” they acquired through Challenge B Logic and Current Events seminars.

All the work resulted in a trial completely under the students’ control, with them acting as prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, witnesses and bailiffs. Before diving into the case, Dyson said students had to learn the rules, laws, and procedures of a courtroom.

“They have a thick mock trial notebook they’ve had to read about 10 times,” she said. “The goal was for them to learn as much as possible and have a clear understanding of the judicial system and understand how to look at evidence from both sides before studying the actual case.”

But the point of the exercise isn’t necessarily about training students to become lawyers or judges, Dyson added. During the trial, students used skills such as listening to both side as of an argument, paying close attention to detail, asking good questions, speaking and writing persuasively, and employing clear reasoning skills — all from memory.

“It’s for them to practice those classical skills of rhetoric, persuasive writing, and others that they’ll need to be successful in life,” she said.

Darrell White, a retired judge who served in the City Court of Baton Rouge for more than 20 years, presided over the case while offering several helpful critiques to students throughout both trials.

A jury of five — Livingston Parish council members John Wascom and Garry Talbert, attorneys Billy Leach and Erin Day, and social worker Kaziah Williams — scored the students on how they performed in their various roles.

Classical Conversations

From left, Tristan Dyson, Colleen Thames and Lilly Picard go over their defense strategy during a mock trial for Classical Conversation students in Denham Springs, Hammond and Baton Rouge on Monday, April 8.

Dyson said the mock trial serves as a “warm-up” for the formal debate Classical Conversations students go through when they reach Challenge 1 (ninth grade). This year, Challenge 1 students engaged in debates on immigration and marijuana laws.

“The mock trial gives them all the information to use in their debate, because that’s really what it is,” Dyson said. “Once they do the actual debate, they’ll have to find their own information. But the mock trial teaches them you can’t look at one thing — you have to look at everything, just like you would in a debate.”

Students from the Denham Springs campus who performed in the mock trial were Tristan Dyson, Lilly Picard, Roger Sterling, Becki York, Maddie Wilson, and Eli Lane.

Students from the Hammond campus were Grant Barberio, Colleen Thames and Jon Ross Welch, while students from Baton Rouge campus were Ava Boone, Caroline Gaspard, Charles Gaspard, Isabella Howard, Bryley Martin, Rachel Miller, Lexi Travis, Hallie Truesdell, Grace Vosberg, Jonathan Vosberg, Joseph Vosberg and Chloe Wood.

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