Breaking the stereotype

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© Acorn Newspapers
The 11-member mock trial team from Frontier High School recently competed against 30 other teams from across the county during a four-day competition at the Ventura County Courthouse. Frontier High, based at the Camarillo Airport, is the first continuation high school in the county to compete in the mock trial competition, which requires students to study a fictional court case and act out the various roles, including witnesses, defendants, plaintiffs and lawyers. © Acorn Newspapers
The irony isn’t lost on Frontier High School student Marisol Espinoza.The 16-year-old Oxnard resident realizes that the hours she spent working as a member of Frontier’s mock trial team helped her stay out of trouble and possibly kept her from appearing in court on the wrong side of the aisle.

Marisol, one of 11 students who make up the continuation high school’s first mock trial team, said learning how the judicial system works has sparked her interest in criminal justice and encouraged her to pursue a career as a probation officer.

Frontier’s mock trial team recently competed against more than 30 schools from across Ventura County in a four-day competition that required the students to take on the various roles in a court case.

It was the first time a continuation high school in Ventura County fielded a team.

Each team studies a fictional case and gives students courtroom roles to play, such as witnesses, bailiffs and lawyers the prosecution and defense.

A panel of three to four lawyers and law students evaluate the students’ performances knowledge of court proceedings and name a winner at the end the competition at the Ventura County Court House.

This year’s mock trial winner was the team from La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks.

Although the Frontier team didn’t take home a trophy, it did receive the Team Spirit award. Frontier student Alfredo Echeberria also won first place for his portrayal of Dr. Schwartz, a witness for the prosecution.

“I like how we proved a lot of people wrong because a lot of people didn’t think we were able to do it,” said 17-year-old Mia Bolante from Somis.

Proving that students from Frontier High could compete alongside their counterparts from across the county was a big reason why teacher Kim Dallape set about establishing the team in September.

“We’re just as good as everybody else,” Dallape said. “ When they get ( to Frontier), our students believe, and some are told, that they’re Dallape some sort of loser, and teacher they’re not. This is one way to prove to (the students) they’re anything but. They took on the challenge, rose to the occasion and proved to themselves that they can go toe to toe with everybody.”

Preparing for court

Dallape enlisted two Frontier teachers, Lindsay Darby and Steve Gillespie, and three local attorneys, Gilbert Romero, Sandra Romero and Dominick Kardum, who offer their time to prepare the students for the courtroom.

To participate in the countywide mock trial, each team must have a minimum of eight students, although most schools have more than 20 people on a team.

Keeping students on the Frontier team was a challenge, Dallape said, because some graduated early, others could not commit to the practices and many returned to their home schools in Oxnard Union High School District.

Dallape said the “revolving door” atmosphere of students at Frontier makes it hard to sustain any extracurricular activities because students come and go so frequently. Unlike a traditional four-year high school, she also can’t coach the students from freshman through senior years and will have to build a new team from scratch next year.

Frontier eventually had an 11- person team at the mock trial, and the majority of students had to work double duty by taking on two roles in the fictional court case.

In the fall the team practiced after school for two hours two days a week. In January the students met three times a week and then four times a week in February. The students also held multiple weekend meetings and scrimmages with other schools.

The time commitment was at first a struggle for 16-year-old student Nicole Bourdon, but she never quit because she wanted to support her team.

“( Mock trial) showed me perseverance and how to stick with things,” said Nicole, a Camarillo resident.

“Usually when I start things I don’t finish them, and they just float away. But I had a big role and I couldn’t just leave.”

Frontier student Ashley Vergara said the team gave her a reason to improve her academic performance and gave her a chance to make friends with people she might not have met otherwise.

“(The mock trial team) really opened us all up,” Ashley said.

The Frontier students took a step further than other mock trial teams and volunteered in the community as a group. They worked at “Celebrate the Child” at the Camarillo Ranch in October and at the Oxnard Christmas parade, and they wrapped presents for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office’s Christmas food and toy drive.

“My feeling was that (the teachers) and the lawyers were giving a lot of their time and everybody was stepping up for ( the students), so they were going to pay it forward,” Dallape said. Other side of the courtroom

Dallape said participating in mock trial improved the students’ self-confidence and was academically beneficial for them. She said it strengthened critical thinking skills, taught students how the court system works, improved their writing skills and helped with public speaking.

Gillespie said it was also a unique experience for some of the students who have had past run-ins with the law.

“A lot of our students see the court system from the other side, and it leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth,” Gillespie said. “Now they can understand how the legal system works in its pure form. If we want them to live by the rules, we have to show them how the rules work.”

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