New School Preparatory

Arc de Triumphant

By Nicki Clausen-Grace, Central Florida Family Magazine

What would have happened if Joan of Arc was tried by a group of contemporary eighth-grade girls? History may have recorded one less martyr and actress Ingrid Bergman may have lost a paycheck.

Selected eighth-grade language arts students from New School Preparatory are recreating great trials of history. The program provides meaningful opportunities for reading, writing, research and communication skills, while teaching history from the inside out.

On a sunny December morning, a handful of students discussed trial strategies. That afternoon they would retry Joan of Arc in front of a jury of their peers. While the outcome is still undecided, prosecutors fear they see the handwriting on the wall. "More than likely, it will probably be the defense that wins," said Reem Sugeir, a member of the prosecution team. "Because this is a liberal school, and I don't think anyone is going to put someone to the stake and burn them."

While Sugeir seems resigned to a loss in the courtroom, it is apparent the program is a winner for all involved. Morris Sorin, director and teacher, said a lot of preparation and learning lead up to the trial itself. "In order to understand Joan of Arc, you really must understand medieval times and the role of the church. What we had was a mini-course on the development of religion," said Sorin. "We studied the story of Joan from the book (teacher's guide). We then went and got the movie Joan of Arc ."

In addition to classroom lessons, students prepared for the trial by researching on the Internet and other sources. "We met with Morris, discussed the trial, and made a timeline that went all the way back to 1250 B.C.," said Sugeir.

"They look at history from 1997, not from the point of time it actually occurred," said Sorin. Students were allowed to use modern court rulings and confer with or even bring in attorneys as a resource.

"We are very interested in getting upper-grade students into abstract thinking and philosophy," said Sorin. "We want them to wonder 'How do we judge history?' Well, if you are an adolescent in 1997, you might judge the case of a peasant girl who dressed like a boy so she could fight for her beliefs a little differently from the way they did in 1431 A.D."

In fact, the jury of fourth-through-eighth graders at New School Preparatory did see things differently from Joan of Arc's first jury. She was found innocent on all counts. And while what is done cannot be undone, Joan would be pleased to know she is still inspiring courage centuries after her demise.

"Joan was a very pious girl. Nothing could persuade her to not believe in what she believed in," said Jasimin Thompson, a member of the prosecution. "And I'm religious, and I got from her that even when everything's not going my way I should continue to believe and not give up."

Quick Takes

Selected eighth-grade language arts students from New School Preparatory are recreating great trials of history. The program provides meaningful opportunities for reading, writing, research and communication skills, while teaching history from the inside out.

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