Education

Park Forest Middle School students learn about criminal justice system firsthand

District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker tells Park Forest Middle School eighth-grade students about the Centre County Courthouse on Friday. The main courtroom is one of the oldest courtrooms continuously used in Pennsylvania.
District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker tells Park Forest Middle School eighth-grade students about the Centre County Courthouse on Friday. The main courtroom is one of the oldest courtrooms continuously used in Pennsylvania. adrey@centredaily.com

Whenever there was an opportunity to ask a question, Alina Muroski’s hand popped up.

She asked at least a half dozen questions to District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker about on-the-job experiences.

But the Park Forest Middle School eighth-grade student said the coolest thing about learning the criminal justice system was getting a firsthand look inside the Centre County jail and courthouse.

“We’ve been learning some stuff in class but now have knowledge on how it really is,” Alina said.

She was one of 92 students who got a tour of the facilities during a field trip Friday that tied into a social studies unit.

Teacher Jamie Brennan said curriculum focused on the criminal justice system but also was a part of her own version of “Law Day.”

“We went through the whole process of being arrested and booked all the way through a sentencing,” Brennan said. “They even did their own mock trial where they acted as the judges and attorneys.”

The trial was based on a murder, she said.

“We do this kind of thing (field trip) every year because it ties into curriculum,” Brennan said. “I think this is our fifth or sixth year, but we find something that connects what we learn in class.”

Last year, students got a tour of the State College Municipal Building.

Law Day is recognized nationally with high schools and its students, but Brennan said she holds her own version of Law Day for middle school students.

This year, national Law Day is held May 1, however Centre County Court administrator Kendra Miknis said students from local schools were invited to attend seminars and speeches from some attorneys and judges Friday at the courthouse.

Miknis, Gillette-Walker and Probation and Parole Supervisor Ron Millward addressed Park Forest Middle School students.

They identified areas of the courtroom, what happens during court proceedings and the aftermath.

“My goal is to educate them so they’re not running into me later in life,” Millward said.

He discussed cases his department oversees and how things such as in-home detention and ankle monitors work.

Students also got a tour of the Centre County Correctional Facility that allowed students to see inmates from a one-way mirror, after hearing from Warden Richard Smith.

Jail tours also included a visit to the booking area and inside a cell.

“It just puts into reality how inmates live, and it’s interesting with what they can and cannot do,” Alina said. “You learn about it in class, but it’s different to see in real life.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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