Bellefonte

Marion-Walker Elementary students get peek at inner-workings of courthouse

President Judge Thomas King Kistler questions Alexis Fravel as she sits on the witness stand. Second-graders at Marion-Walker Elementary School visited the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte on Tuesday.
President Judge Thomas King Kistler questions Alexis Fravel as she sits on the witness stand. Second-graders at Marion-Walker Elementary School visited the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte on Tuesday. CDT photo

A courtroom at Centre County Courthouse was packed Tuesday morning, but those filling the seats and jury box were not jurors, attorneys or police officers.

About 40 second-grade students from Marion-Walker Elementary School visited to learn about some of the jobs and tasks performed in the building. It’s the second time in as many years classes from the school visited the building, said Katy Haagen, a teacher at the school. The visit is part of a unit about communities and what they need to thrive, Haagen said.

A trip to the courthouse is meant to give the classes a better understanding of what goes on in the building and how aspects of the judicial system work, Haagen said.

“It’s one thing to read about it in a book or talk about it in class but to actually come and see our government in action, I thought it would be really important for them to experience it,” Haagen said.

President Judge Thomas King Kistler started the day by explaining to the class what goes on during a trial. Students were selected as a jury and Kistler swore one in as a witness. Court reporter Chris Bitsko transcribed the proceedings and showed the class the results on a projector. Probation officer Ron Millward showed off a GPS anklet the department uses to track people.

The last visitor of the day drew a big response from the children. Faith Schindler, a victim and witness advocate with the District Attorney’s Office, introduced the class to Princess, the courthouse dog, and explained the job she does.

Coming to court, testifying and talking to police officers can be scary, Schindler said. Princess, who lives with Schindler and just turned 10 years old Monday, is there to put witnesses or victims at ease in those situations. Although most of the people Princess works with are children, her oldest client was 98 years old, Schindler said.

Princess’s work is a win-win for everyone, Schindler told the students.

“She really likes it because she gets lots of treats,” Schindler told the children to great laughter. Schindler then fed Princess goodies as she did tricks like sitting and standing on command and giving “high fives” with her nose.

Because most everyone has to come to the courthouse for some reason during a lifetime, events like the one Tuesday and the annual Law Day are also victories for all involved, Kistler said.

“They’re all great opportunities to share what goes on in this building and we look forward to it,” he said.

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