It’s Friday morning and I find myself sitting in court. The John Joseph Moakley Courthouse, to be specific. Your immediate reaction might be to assume that I’ve been summoned for jury duty or to question whether my next stop will be the big house. The truth however, is a far more fun reality. As I sit in the empty courtroom, I slowly hear the growing sound of children– roughly 30 5th graders to be exact, pour into court, with teacher, chaperones and guide in tow.
As you’ve no doubt guessed it by now, I’m volunteering to help out with a class field trip. The class’ trip and tour is part of the Moakley Courthouse’s Children Discovering Justice program (CDJ). As the kids take their seats and the guide begins asking questions, I find it remarkable how much they had already learned in anticipation of having their day in court.
CDJ is a nonprofit that teaches kids about the judicial system, and the ways in which law performs an integral role in a democratic society. In doing so, CDJ aims to instill kids with a respect for and understanding of the law and fellow citizens as well as a confidence in their own voice to insight change and advocacy for themselves.
After the guide went over the mock trial case with the kids, the class was divided up into sections representing the defense, prosecution, witnesses, judge, and jury. Teachers and chaperons took their seats in the area designated to the public, looking on as the kids set to work building their cases and reviewing the facts. My job was to make sure the kids understood each section they were working on and help with constructing their statements for the trial. Soon enough, the big moment arrived.
“Order in the court. All rise.”
As I took my seat amongst parents and teachers, I watched as the students transformed from chatty fifth graders to (sometimes still giggly but earnestly attempting an element of solemnity) participants in a trial to determine whether or not the hypothetical Victor G. was in fact guilty of stealing $100 and an iPod.
The case resulted in a win for the defense after the jury determined there to be reasonable doubt. The defense irrupted into cheers as the prosecution sent some eye rolls and giggles their way.
While teaching a bunch of 10-year-olds the importance of civic duty and process of legal proceedings conjures up ideas of glazing gazes, antsy shifting and a good deal of yawning, this couldn’t be further from what I experienced. By giving kids a chance to contribute and feel like they’re a part of something, CDJ finds a way to engage students in something typically thought of as either the boring grown-up stuff or the melodramatic TV action. And it felt great to not only witness but also contribute to that process.
Likewise, when we think about volunteering we can have our own lists of reservations or preconceived ideas. Plus, it can be pretty daunting when you realize just how many opportunities there are to give back. Fortunately we’re lucky enough to be in a neighborhood that fosters community, engagement, and community engagement, which is just one of the many reasons to love Fort Point.
As I left the courthouse and the kids were ushered out by their chaperons to the buses, I couldn’t help but feel like the education was equally received. While I may have already been familiar with terms like “allegations” or “due process,” I took with me a better understanding of just how important it is to contribute and feel a sense of connection to your community.
Interesting in learning more about the possible volunteer opportunities in the neighborhood? Come to our Fort Point Business Community Meeting “The Value of Volunteering” on Thursday, April 20, 8:30-9:30am to hear about a plethora of opportunities ranging from mentoring students to playing a part in the Boston Tea Party Reenactment. To volunteer with CDJ yourself, visit their page here.
Already have ideas for way to give back to the neighborhood? Let us know in the comments or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also Be sure to stay in the loop with Friends of Fort Point Channel and sign up for our newsletter here.
Christine Rowley is the Marketing and Social Media Intern for Friends of Fort Point Channel and a current junior at Northeastern University.