Thorndale students put bullying on trial

An exercise in experiential learning enabled students to confront the issue of bullying head-on. Rare is the child who isn’t exposed to bullying in one way or another.

So when Mara Frost, a teacher at Thorndale Elementary in Pierrefonds, learned that the Montréal Bar Association’s annual essay competition was focused on bullying and violence in school, she wanted her grade 6 students to participate.

A moral dilemma

To get her students thinking, Mara asked her lawyer fiancé, Fabio Zeppilli, to help them stage a mock trial in class. The fictitious case involved a child who was so repeatedly picked on that he eventually lashed out at his tormentor and punched him in the face. That landed the bully in hospital and led to a lawsuit by the bully’s family against the victimized child. The question posed to the class was: who was the guilty party?

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The “defendant” consults with his “defence team” during the mock trial.

One student took on the role of bully, while another played the child who was bullied. Others acted as defence counsel, Crown attorney, jury and witnesses. Mara’s fiancé was the judge. The students eventually concluded that both parties were in the wrong.

“The kids really liked the drama and the arguments they came up with on the spot were so insightful, it was clear they were getting something out of it,” relates Mara. “The experience woke them up to just how serious bullying can be—that it can get so far out there that it has to be dealt with by the legal system. It has also made them more vocal. Now in class, they’ll call each other out and say: ‘You did such and such and it’s not acceptable.’”

Exposure to the legal process showed the students how discussion and negotiation can be used to resolve problems. And to top off the experience, one of the Thorndale students won first prize in the English Elementary Cycle Three category of the “Write for Justice” essay competition.

 

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