For the past three weeks, Terry Bell has faced one charge of inciting a riot and multiple counts of arson – but Bell, the prosecutor, defense attorney, and witnesses, are all children. Only the judge and jury are adults.
This is not a real trial, but the lessons it provides participants, all part of the Ohio Wesleyan Junior League (OWjL) camp, are real.
“The kids learn about Fifth Amendment rights and what their rights and responsibilities are if they’re questioned as part of a trial in real life,” said Jon Brush, organizer of the OWjL class, “You’re On Trial.”
“That’s not the focus of the class, but that’s something that comes up.”
“You’re On Trial” uses three fictional court cases – rotated each year so no camper has the same one twice – and this year it’s time for City of South Point v. Terry Bell.
The class involves three days of training on legal procedures and the specifics of the case, and then a two-day trial where the students – sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders – play all the roles except judge and jury, which are usually filled by volunteer lawyers.
“(It’s been going) very well this year,” Brush said. “The students are very involved, very engaged, and they’re doing their jobs really well.”
While most classes are held on the Ohio Wesleyan grounds, “You’re On Trial” moves off campus for the trial, to Delaware’s City Council chambers.
Another class held off campus is “Adventures in Leadership” led by Chet Snouffer, owner of Delaware’s Jungle Gym.
Snouffer is an old hand when it comes to the OWjL camp – he started leading a boomerang class over 25 years ago, and has expanded to offer “Adventures in Leadership” and advanced versions of the leadership and boomerang courses.
“The OWjL camps and the Adventure Camps that I run in July are my two favorite things that I do all year long,” Snouffer said. “I look forward to it every year.”
He’s been leading camps so long, he’s seen many former students come back as OWjL camp counselors – a common occurrence in the program. He’s even had two generations of students, he said – a former OWjL camper is now bringing her children to an open gym he holds for young children.
The open gym provided a great finish to the leadership class, as it was led by the OWjL campers.
“They tend to really enjoy (being the leaders),” Snouffer said. “Year after year, they rate this as one of their favorite days of the whole thing.”
Sedric Granger, a camper, really enjoyed the class, especially the fourth day where he surprised even Snouffer with his running jump.
The campers were doing a team-building exercise where they had to get over a 10-foot rock wall, one at a time. While most were helped up by other campers on the ground, Granger was last to go and had to reach those at the top all on his own.
“I learned that being a leader is not always by saying your ideas and your idea only – you have to listen to others, you have to make great ideas, (but) you have to consider everybody’s ideas,” said Granger, a first-time participant who’s “definitely” coming back next year.
Granger also took classes in baking and statistics, and enjoyed them as well.
“‘Baking Basics’ is really good ’cause you feel good when you make your cake or make your brownie and then it tastes really good,” he said. “Statistics was just fun because we could see the percentage of you getting a perfect (NBA) bracket.”
Jordan Brothers, another “Adventures in Leadership” participant, said the OWjL experience had a big impact on what she may do as an adult.
“I took a robotics class and I kinda want to be an engineer now because of all the things I was taught, and I actually like building robots and programming them,” she said.
She also enjoyed the “Adventures” course, especially the rock wall.
“I really liked it, and I think it influenced my ideas on becoming a leader, and it made me more confident in the things I do,” Brothers said.
Ohio Wesleyan has been hosting OWjL Camp (pronounced “owl”) for more than 30 years. Students who attend are nominated by their schools and all have earned high test scores and demonstrated exceptional talent, creativity, or leadership. Learn more at https://www.owu.edu/about/offices-services/owjl-camp/.