Eighth Grade Students Have their Day in Court

What is it like for York Prep students who, after reading Walter Dean Myers’ novel Monster about a Manhattan teen on trial for felony murder, encounter the reality of the criminal justice system up close? That was the profound experience of Ms. Smith’s 8th Grade English class during their field trip to the Manhattan Criminal Court at 100 Center Street on October 25.

The protagonist of the novel Monster, Steve Harmon, is a 16-year-old on trial for a murder that took place during a robbery. Part of the action takes place at the Manhattan Criminal Court.

Upon arriving at 100 Centre Street, the students had the unusual opportunity to meet and ask questions of a Deputy Clerk of the court about the criminal justice system and the jury selection process. They then observed arraignments of 16-year-old boys who were charged with robberies. They watched the sentencing of one young man from two to six years for robbery and of another who was put on probation.

Lastly, the class sat in on a jury trial of a man charged with carrying an armed weapon. They listened closely to the policeman testifying about when and where he found the weapon.

The trip was an enlightening experience that indelibly heightened the forces at work in Monster. Ms. Frieman, mother of one of the students, said, “I think it was a terrific eye-opener for the kids that not everyone lives a life as privileged as they do, not only financially but in the matter of stability.”

Eighth grader Jake said, “I learned how thankful I am for what I have because I go to a good school. I also value that I have money to buy things, and I don’t have to take from others.”