|Yavneh students pose with their first-place Law Fair award in front of the Bar Foundation building in New Brunswick. From left, Shoshana Fogelman, Aviv Davidovich, Jonathan Galandauer, Ariel Berman, Ephraim Najman, Noam Putterman, David Jaeger, Zev Kirsch, and Mrs. Elaine Weisfeld, group facilitator. Courtesy yavneh|
Preparing for a mock trial is fun, said Yavneh fourth-grader Shoshana Fogelman.
“But it was also a bit scary to see a judge for real,” added the 10-year-old Fair Lawn resident.
In March, Shoshana and seven other fourth- and fifth-grade Yavneh students learned that they had won first place in their grade category at the annual New Jersey Law Fair sponsored by the Bar Foundation.
Their entry – an original, tightly scripted lawsuit produced by the children themselves – closely fit the Bar Foundation’s criteria for an interesting case, said Elaine Weisfeld, Yavneh’s associate principal of general studies for grades 1-5 and facilitator of the project.
“We talked about the fact that there is a difference between civil and criminal law, and that civil law might be more interesting,” she said. “The two main criteria for a good case are that it be on a timely topic, something people are talking about, and that it not be too easy. If it’s too easy, it’s not interesting.”
Following up a topic much discussed in recent days, the eight students in the afterschool club – the Bar Foundation requires that there be four attorneys and four witnesses – chose cyberbullying
According to Weisfeld, the case raised many questions, including bullying, the role of the bystander, appropriate school supervision, discipline, negligence, and liability.
“They were wonderful children to work with,” she said, “serious about the topic and creative [about] dialogue. They were very proud of their product.”
Cases must be presented to the Bar Foundation in a prescribed format, citing the issues, facts, witness reports, and relevant legislation, said Weisfeld. She noted that her students did research on recent bullying laws, “pulling pieces from it that our ‘lawyers’ could include.”
The case detailed the actions of a student dubbed Billy Bully, who used his cell phone to take a picture of fellow student EZ Mark. Bully then distorted Mark’s features and – hacking into the school’s computer – superimposed the doctored photo onto a book fair flyer advertising “The Diary of the Wimpy Kid.” E-mailing the photo to the entire school body, he so embarrassed the victim that Mark refused to attend classes, subsequently requiring both tutoring and therapy. The Yavneh litigators sued both Bully and the school, ultimately winning a guilty verdict.
Yavneh has participated in the Law Fair for some 15 years, said Weisfeld.
“We’ve won a number of times,” she added, noting that “the students work hard at it, meeting an hour a week.” Besides submitting their brief to the Bar Foundation, on May 24 the Yavneh team had a chance to present its case to students from a Montville public school in a courtroom in New Brunswick. They also had an opportunity to air their case at Yavneh itself, which Noam Putterman, a fifth-grader from Bergenfield, particularly enjoyed.
“You could ask them what they thought about our case. They told us how good it was,” he said. While he could tell that the other juries also “got it,” getting immediate feedback was more fun, he said.
“I played Mrs. Mark, the mother of the victim,” said Shoshana. “I said my son was heartbroken and that we couldn’t afford the therapist. We emphasized how kids can get bullied and how we can stop it,” she said, adding that she hoped those of her schoolmates who saw the team enact the case “learned what it could feel like if you were the one being bullied.”
Fourth-grade Teaneck resident Zev Kirsch, who played a lawyer for the plaintiff, agreed that the experience was fun but said he also learned a lot from the experience.
“I knew a little bit about the issue,” he said, but he learned much more when the group reviewed recent cyberbullying laws.
Another thing he learned was that “I want to be a lawyer. It’s fun and intense” not knowing if you’re going to win or lose. “I really want to try to do this again.”
Noam Putterman said that while he knew something about cyberbullying, he hadn’t realized that you could hack into someone else’s account. He also learned something from the presentation of the other team, which tackled the issue of banning trick-or-treating by children of a certain age.
Ephraim Najman, a fifth-grader from Teaneck, said he could tell from the body language of the other team that they agreed with Yavneh’s case.
“At the end of the case, when the judge said they would have to think about whether Billy Bully was guilty of cyberbullying, I saw them nodding yes and I thought, Yay, we won.”
Najman, whose father is a lawyer, said he learned some technical terms he probably wouldn’t have known “until I was older.” He also learned that while people “can say anything, you need proof” to win a case.
“No one should bully,” he said. “We saw that it was really bad.”
Also participating in the presentation were fourth-grader David Jaeger of Wesley Hills, N.Y., and fifth-graders Ariel Berman, Aviv Davidovich, and Jonathan Galandauer of Teaneck.