Nov. 13—Not long after the final gavel slammed down at an international competition in Chicago, Trisha Brown’s Centennial High classroom was once again filled with lessons in jurisprudence as mock trial practice got underway during another busy afternoon on the campus.
Now, after arguing the merits of crime and punishment for a defendant accused of sending a false missile alert, the more than two dozen students in Room 903 areworking daily on a different kind of defense: their county title.
The Golden Hawks finished sixth at the international competition involving schools from across the nation and Canada, as schools presented either the prosecution or defense for the case of the People V. Tiernee.
The team takes a set of facts in what is considered a “closed library,” meaning competitors can only make a case based on information they’re provided. The students then work with their coaches to not just make sound legal arguments, but convincing ones, with confident arguments and quick-thinking analyses.
As such, Brown said taking home a title is about 80 percent performance and 20 percent understanding the law. Theater students usually do pretty well, she said.
And she should know, because so does Centennial High.
“So nine years ago was the first time that Centennial had ever won county,” Brown said Monday outside her classroom, “and then we’ve managed to keep that going.”
The program went on to win seven of the last nine years, including in 2020 and 2022.
Brown, who joined the staff at Centennial two years ago, mentioned a couple of different factors in the program’s success, including her predecessor, Brett Dobson. He laid the groundwork for the team’s recent run, and then passed on his giant binder to her. While he stepped down from head coaching duties, he still stops by to help out whenever he can.
She was grateful for the help of attorneys Andrea Lopez of Berry, Smith & Bartell, a workers’ compensation lawyer, and Leanne Scheideman, a deputy district attorney from the county DA’s office, coaches who work with Centennial students on their understanding of the finer points of the law.
It doesn’t hurt that Fruitvale Junior High also has an award-winning program that feeds into Centennial, Brown pointed out.
“Part of it is just the students understand the legacy of the team, and they want to keep that going,” she added.
“I’ve had students this year — I always ask them, ‘What made you want to join mock trial?’ And I had kids who were, like, ‘The trophies in your window,'” she said, pointing to the hardware on display.
Last year, 17 students in the social studies teacher’s mock trial elective course took on all comers in Kern and won the top local competition for would-be jurists, the Kern County Mock Trial finals.
These days, 28 students — 14 new and 14 returning — are at it again, preparing for next month’s big competition.
There are usually about 16 teams that compete at the varsity level. Some schools, such as Centennial, have a JV team as well.
Srividya Charepalli, a junior, recently took second place in the witness category out of about 130 students at the Chicago competition.
Charepalli said she wasn’t sure if she was going to like it when she first tried it five years ago. Now she enjoys working with her team, and how it’s helped build her self-confidence and public speaking ability. She’s already thought about becoming a defense attorney, she said.
“I just like the adrenaline rush that you get when you’re … objecting to something, or when you have to think on your feet to fight your objection argument,” Charepalli said.
Team captain Vaishvi Joshi, a senior, is competing for her sixth year. She remembers competing against high school students as an eighth-grader.
Her specialty is making the closing arguments for the prosecution, which she’s done for the last four years. The program has helped her overcome a bit of shyness, she said, because its competitive aspect puts participants on the spot and teaches them to work with teammates and coaches in order to figure out how to communicate effectively.
“Mock trial really helped me to get out of that shell and showed me how to be effective at communication, which is essential to my life today,” said Joshi, who also takes part in virtual enterprise, a simulation that teaches students about how to build a successful business.
Garrett Redstone, a senior with six years of experience in mock trial, mentioned thinking about becoming a prosecutor after getting his biblical students degree at Liberty University, and then, ultimately, a judge. His experience in mock trial helped give him confidence in his choices, he said, because he’s been able to talk to lawyers and even judges who’ve shared advice with him on how they’ve gotten to where they are.
“Looking at all the different backgrounds of the people that I’ve met in law, they didn’t always go straight to law school, or they didn’t always plan for law to be their first career,” Redstone said. “So, a law degree can pretty much get you into any area of law,” he added. “I think it’s given me the idea that law is a very freeing kind of degree to get in order to practice whatever you like.”