Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 15, 2013

Ponderosa students learn about the judicial system

Mike James
The Independent

CATLETTSBURG — Everybody goes through the metal detector.

That’s the first lesson a class of Ponderosa fifth-graders learned Thursday when they visited the C. David Hagerman Justice Center, which houses Boyd County’s district and circuit courts.

The children went there for a tour personally conducted by circuit judge George Davis. Davis was there at the door to greet them, but even the most innocent-seeming visitors have to follow the rules.

So each of them filed through the uprights and only their teacher, Sheri Henry, triggered the sensors. So they got the privilege of watching a deputy check her from head to toe with a metal-detecting wand.

The field trip was a hands-on civics lesson for the children, who are in an advanced social studies class for students who want to deepen their knowledge of government functions.

After a brief meeting with circuit clerk Linda Kay Baker, the students took the elevator to Davis’ third-floor courtroom for a little roleplaying.

Davis put one of the students, Jada Miller, in his own robe and plopped her in his own chair at the bench; he assigned other students to portray jury, attorneys and defendant and directed them to the appropriate seats.

From their courtroom vantage points the children learned an array of civic lessons, from the way juries are selected to courtroom decorum to sentencing options.

 They discussed some pertinent constitutional issues like the concepts of fair and impartial juries and double jeopardy.

They received rare behind-the-scenes peeks at the jury deliberation room and the concrete-walled holding cell where prisoners are confined pending their hearings in court.

“Don’t read the door,” one student cautioned after catching a glimpse of off-color graffiti scratched by a bored prisoner.

The Constitution and the workings of the three branches of U.S. government are among core content requirements for fifth-graders, Henry said. “I wanted them to see the actual roles people play in the courtroom” she said.

Real-world study encourages students to keep track of current events, she said.

“These kids need to know how government works and the consequences for actions,” Davis said.

 MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.