RIT GEAR UP sponsors mock trial challenge for 11th graders in Rochester high schools

Final tournament will be held April 13
Two high school students speak with college staff member

A. Sue Weisler

Breanna Biggham, center, and Brielle Collier, right, visited the RIT campus for practice interviews and a college tour March 12. The 11th graders from Joseph C. Wilson High School are participating in the Esquire Hour All-Star Mock Trial Challenge and are considering law careers. Here, they share their thoughts about the workshop series with Kraig Farrell, RIT GEAR UP director of student and academic affairs.

High school juniors in the Rochester City School District are learning about careers in the law through a mock trial tournament sponsored by Rochester Institute of Technology and attorneys from the Rochester community.

RIT GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) and private practice attorneys Craig Carson and Gregory Salmon are sponsoring the Esquire Hour All-Star Mock Trial Challenge for 25 students who are part of the RIT program. Through eight weeks of workshops and a culminating tournament, students will learn how trial attorneys build a case and argue it before a judge.

“I hope the students are able to take this activity and become interested in the exploration of a career field that they may not have otherwise been interested in,” Salmon said. “The big take-away, I think, is that I hope this interaction with myself and the other attorneys breaks down some barriers and preconceived notions about the law.”

During eight Saturday workshops, practicing professionals from the Rochester law community are briefing the students on different legal concepts and coaching the teams as they learn to:

  • Master the fact pattern;
  • Critically examine evidence;
  • Develop a strategy;
  • Conduct direct and cross examinations; and
  • Act the part.

Teams of students will take turns prosecuting and defending a hypothetical case, involving a defendant who allegedly sold drugs, during an all-day tournament held at Northeast College Preparatory High School at the Douglass Campus. Members of the media are invited to attend the final rounds and awards ceremony held 1-4 p.m April 13.

“This legal issue tries to put facts in favor of the defense and facts in favor of the prosecution with the hopes that the students have thoughtful discussion about the case,” Salmon said. “There are some red herrings built in there as well to give the students a little bit to grapple with.”

Salmon and Carson, hosts of the “Esquire Hour” on 100.9 WXIR-LP, approached RIT GEAR UP as a co-sponsor for the mock trial tournament. The program is part of RIT’s K-12 University Center and has well-established connections with the Rochester City School District, students and parents and served as a liaison to make the 10-week event happen.

“It’s all about opening up pathways for kids,” said Kraig Farrell, director of RIT GEAR UP. “The goal is to expose students to law careers and break down barriers and show that there is a career path for lawyers and judges.”

Farrell would like to see RIT GEAR UP cultivate more community partnerships like the Esquire Hour All-Star Mock Trial Challenge that connect students with professionals working in different fields.

“This has been a great collaboration,” Farrell said. “I see this is where this path is taking us—Matching students with professionals and leveraging connections for our students with people who have specific content knowledge for career exposure.”

RIT GEAR UP works with city of Rochester’s class of 2020 high school students and their parents to build a path to graduation and careers. The future-readiness program is federally funded through the New York State Higher Education Services Corp. to increase the number of economically disadvantaged students who are prepared to enter and succeed in higher education.

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