Mock trial is the high school student’s opportunity to take the classroom exercises of the dialectic and rhetoric years and use them in a public setting which requires decorum, quick thinking, and confident delivery. Using the skills of critical reading, logic, research, constitutional and legal knowledge, writing, and oratory, students push themselves in mind, body, and soul to prepare for two courtroom trial competitions. In each competition, their team has several opportunities to play both plaintiff/prosecution and defense. They always argue both sides of each mock trial case.
For two months before each competition, team members teach one another new concepts, write their own speeches, and meet often as lawyer-witness pairs to push toward more careful reasoning and the probing arc of questions which will bring that reasoning to light in the courtroom. Held accountable by their coaches and fellow team members, they also train to minimize their human weaknesses: laziness, time management, insecurity, pride, and fear. Instead of burdens, each participant comes to the tense moments of competition with a determination to listen carefully and to clearly, logically tell a story using questions (lawyers) or narrative answers (witnesses). The mock trial competition is a culminating academic moment for students in which they see the real-life integration of the academic rigors and virtues pursued at St. Stephen’s.
The St. Stephen’s Academy string ensemble began in 2006. It was student led for several years, and is now directed by our music teacher. This program fits into our school’s emphasis on music and the arts, and our ethic of learning from the great artistic achievements of the past. Most of the music the ensemble plays is quartet music by composers like Beethoven and Bach. The ensemble also accompanies the hymns sung by the student body during assembly. They perform at school functions, such as the Christmas program and poetry recitation nights. The St. Stephen’s Academy string ensemble brings students together from both the Lower and Upper Schools.
At St. Stephen’s Academy we participate in the NEA sponsored competition, Poetry Out Loud. This is a national poetry recitation competition for grades 7-12. The finals are held in Washington, D.C., and the winner is awarded $20,000. We participate in this competition because of the way it asks students to engage language. Ultimately, the competition is not simply about memorization, but communication of meaning. Poetry is language at its most heightened form, and an intimate engagement with poetry invites students to engage language at the highest level. The actual presentation gives students the public speaking experience that we are seeking to develop as a part of our rhetoric program. In our first year participating in the competition we had a student move on past the regional competition to compete at the state level.