High School Students Lay Down the Law at Summer Institute

“Today we’re here to decide the fate of two high school students suspected of cheating on their finals and of writing threatening notes.”

That’s how prosecutor Bryce Willson, a student at Eastern Brown High School in Sardinia, Ohio, started opening arguments June 27 in the Moot Courtroom of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

The defendants were indeed high school students. So were the witnesses, school officials, prosecutors and defense attorneys. The teen students had to do real research to back up their arguments for this fictional court hearing as the final part of the UC Summer Honors Institutes for Gifted Students that was held June 22-27.

A summer tradition at UC since 1986, the institutes are open to gifted Ohio high school sophomores and juniors. Program director Gay Laughlin says the institutes provide challenges that these students would not find in their own classrooms. For example, for the institute, “Law, Language and Society,” attorneys Cynthia Ris and Michael Delaney, also a UC adjunct assistant professor, gave students an inside look at the responsibilities of practicing law, including a tour of a Cincinnati courtroom. Campbell County Judge Greg Popovich presided over the disciplinary hearing in the Moot Courtroom.

The students stayed on campus all week as part of the institute. Their proud parents were invited to the final event. “The kids have worked really hard,”  coordinator Janice Gourlay told the parents, just before the hearing began. “They wanted to stay up late (to do research), and they would work during their lunch, and they took it all very seriously.”

Shalyn Pavolillo

Shalyn Pavolillo

The student jury had to decide whether the prosecution’s evidence was enough to find the two defendants guilty of “giving or receiving unauthorized assistance during an exam, in addition to violating disciplinary rules by menacing, threatening or harassing another student or faculty member by words or in writing,” read Judge Greg Popovich. Representing the fictional Governor’s High School were Peter Cimbal of Valley Forge High School, Bryce Wilson, and David Wang of Mason High School. One defense team included Peter Garrison of the Henderson Leadership Intitute, Amanda George of Franklin Heights High School and Rachel Payne of Goshen High School. Tim Kwan of Wyoming High School joined Shalyn Pavolillo as the second defense team.

Parents Debbie and Andy Pavolillo traveled to UC from their Trumbull County home in Niles, Ohio to see their daughter Shalyn work the defense side. "Being a lawyer has been her dream for years," Debbie said. "The high school counselor at her school brought the institute to our attention. This is her first time in a big city and she just loves it."

Peter Cimbal

Peter Cimbal

In the dramatization, defendants and witnesses were called to the stand, including one witness who faced some accusations herself – that she was making the allegations because one of the suspects was her ex-boyfriend and the other suspect was his new girlfriend.

After closing arguments, Judge Popovich reminded the jurors they needed to reach a decision by basing their decision on the testimony of the witnesses and evidence presented at the hearing. The jury’s verdict was not guilty on all counts.

“Your kids are great,” Delaney said to the parents as the courtroom took a recess so the jury could deliberate. “Your kids are challenging. Your children could come to any one of my undergrad classes here and do well.”
Two more groups of students will be coming to the summer institutes to explore The Practice and Ethics of Medicine July 6-11 and July 13-18.

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