13639 Victory Boulevard in Valley Glen
Written byLaura Watts
Laurence School was founded in 1953 by visionaries Marvin and Lynn Jacobson and boasts more than six decades of excellence in academics, visual and performing arts, athletics, character education and cutting-edge integrated technology. Their forward-thinking and innovative program prepares students for a successful future. The administration, faculty and staff are deeply devoted to all Laurence students, and in turn the children feel safe, secure and confident to take advantage of the numerous opportunities provided. This beautiful five-acre school enhances 21st-century learning skills through an innovative curriculum including public speaking, environmental sustainability, a global farmers market program and Kids’ Court.
What is Kids’ Court and how did the program get started at Laurence School?
“The County of Laurence vs. Willy Wonka. Yes, the eccentric chocolatier, Willy Wonka, that you know from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The charge: attempted murder of Veruca Salt and criminal negligence in exposing children to danger in his candy factory. This is only one case in a legal system filled with fairy tales and all the courtroom drama you’d find on TV’s top legal shows.
Now in its 24th year at Laurence School in Valley Glen, Kids’ Court is a one-of-a-kind program developed by the head of school and attorney Lauren Wolke. Laurence School was one of the first schools in the country to implement a mock trial program, and it remains one of the few in existence for elementary school students. Kids’ Court is Lauren’s labor of love. She explains, “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the students to hone their critical thinking and public speaking skills as well as learn about the judicial system.”
Laurence parents who are professional attorneys volunteer to teach the elective class each week. In every trial, students transform into prosecutors, defense attorneys, the accused, witnesses and jury. To top it all off, a real-life judge presides over the jury selection. The prosecution and defense rehearse their arguments, and specific testimony is influenced by the live participation of fellow students, who are courtroom observers and encouraged to ask questions. Everyone has a role to play.”
What do students learn and take away from the program?
“The commitment to academic excellence at Laurence School is reinforced in the months of studying the law and the judicial system. Lauren Wolke enjoys seeing sixth-grade students stretch their brains and continue their growth as ‘creative and critical thinkers as well as strong public speakers.’ A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, who saw the kids in action when he allowed them to practice in his Van Nuys courtroom, saw Kids’ Court working like a well-oiled machine. He said he was very impressed by the accuracy of the trial.”
How does Kids’ Court fit into the Total Child concept of Laurence School?
“Laurence’s mission statement (in part) is clear: Our focus is on ‘The Total Child,’ a multidisciplinary approach which encourages intellectual, creative, ethical, social and emotional growth and awareness. These disciplines are evident in the Kids’ Court program as students put into practice ‘leadership in the global community and the importance of embracing social responsibility at a young age,’ says Lauren.”
What do kids love about Kids’ Court?
“This is an elective; kids who are interested in the law are tapping into what motivates them, encouraging them to move toward their dreams. For some of the students, it may eventually become a career. At 11, Bradley D. played the role of prosecutor in the case of the County of Neverland vs. Peter Pan and has vowed to be a district attorney to fight injustice. For one former student, a career as an attorney is now a reality. For Marissa L., it started when she was 10—a defense attorney in the trials The People vs. Frankenstein and The People vs. The Three Little Pigs. She explained that Kids’ Court introduced her to public speaking and big issues in life in a way she could understand. After she graduated from Laurence, she went on to be captain of the Harvard-Westlake Mock Trial team, winning two national championships. She then joined UCLA’s national championship team, once again as team leader. Marissa has moved on to graduate school, where her public speaking skills and knowledge of the legal system are being put to good use. Clearly, Kids’ Court at Laurence is impactful.”
What’s next for Kids’ Court?
“This school year it’s the case of The Land of Oz vs. Dorothy Gale. The jury’s decision is determined by the student body, allowing for a live verdict and the high courtroom drama every participant can enjoy and remember.”