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High School Students Enjoy Variety of Summer Courses through Continuing Education

By Jo Kadlecek

Thomas F. Bello (far right) and members of the 2002 summer Trial Advocacy class.

Did Jack murder the Giant when he chopped down the beanstalk? Or was the poor hungry farmer merely afraid for his life and therefore acting in self-defense? If so, should society endorse such vigilante actions from a disobedient son who earlier squandered the family cow for a bunch of beans?

The questions might seem like a fairy tale but they were serious stuff this summer as Jack went on trial - literally -- in "courtroom 467" of Schermerhorn Hall on Columbia's Morningside campus. Students in Thomas F. Bello's Trial Advocacy class -- one of over 30 courses offered by the Summer Program for High School Students -- argued whether the "troubled boy" was guilty of murder. They called his poor mother to the witness stand as well as Mrs. Giant, the detective who discovered the slain giant and Jack himself. And when the jury was asked to render its verdict, well, the class ran out of time and had to be dismissed for lunch.

Bello's three-week course introduced high school students to the history and structure of trial advocacy, reviewing such key elements as opening statements, cross examination, rules of conduct and legal strategies. Monday through Friday, from 9:30 to 4:30, students learned the elements of trial work and were required daily to participate in oral arguments and case preparation. They also observed a federal criminal trial at the Federal District Court in Brooklyn and heard live oral arguments by attorneys at the United States Court of Appeals in Manhattan. The course culminated in a moot court session at the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn where students tried a case before an undoubtedly difficult jury: their parents.

"You can't learn trial work entirely from a textbook, so I try to expose my students to as much as possible," says Bello, a trial lawyer who rearranged his own schedule with clients so he could teach the summer course. "It's extremely rewarding for me to see them get a real perspective of the profession."

Bello's methods must be working. Of the 10 juniors and seniors in Bello's 2002 class, eight said the class reinforced their desire to pursue careers in law. Recently, a former student even tracked down Bello to tell him she had decided to enter law school when she finishes college.

The unique approach Bello takes in his Trial Advocacy class reflects an overall philosophy of Continuing Education's High School Program's various summer courses. With classes ranging in subjects from "Theatrical Collaboration: Actor, Director, Playwright" and "Issues in Biological Conservation" to "Introduction to Business Finance and Economics" and "Biomedical Engineering," selected high school students throughout the United States and several other countries come to Columbia for either Session 1 -- which is for residential or commuter students -- or Session 2 -- which is only for commuters. This summer, 13 students also participated for the first time in a study program in Barcelona, Spain. Instead of academic credit, students receive detailed evaluations from instructors and a unique educational experience in the process.

The Summer Program for High School Students began 15 years ago in an effort to provide high school students a non-traditional summer program on Columbia's campus, introducing them also to college life in New York City. Through intensive courses, like Trial Advocacy, students also meet other highly motivated students from different schools and enjoy Columbia's resources such as the gym, libraries and centers. They return home with an official Columbia statement, new friends and a clearer understanding of their particular field of study.

And in the case of Bello's students, they gained a new perspective on an old childhood fable.

Published: Aug 26, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002


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