Sixth grade gifted program Amelia Middle School students presented a literary mock trial to solve the 46-year-old mystery regarding the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Rubin Pritchard, a fictional character in the novel “Where The Red Fern Grows.”
Acting as the judge, Anthony Cardarelli, 11, who was dressed the part (virtually swimming in a judicial black robe), said that he really enjoyed the experience.
“I most enjoyed being in charge of the whole courtroom,” he said. “Banging the gavel and being the judge was a fun and thrilling experience for me.”
Assembled to play for the sixth grade student body in the performance space of the middle school Dec. 21 were all of the usual courtroom players – the judge, the bailiff, the defendant, the prosecuting and defense attorneys, the witnesses, and the exhibitors (a cast of some 29 participants total).
The defendant was the novel’s main character Billy Coleman, accused of and on trial for the intent to hurt another person.
Two jealous and bully neighbor boys, the Pritchards, challenge Billy and his hounds to catch an elusive coon, something that their own coon hounds had never been able to accomplish, but the smart, determined, and resourceful Old Dan and Little Ann are able to figure out how to capture this coon and bring it down.
Afterwards, the hounds of both Billy and the Pritchard boys begin to fight. To break up the vicious canine melee, the elder Pritchard boy grabs Billy's axe and runs towards the hounds, intending to kill them. The younger Rubin Pritchard runs over to intervene, trips and falls on the axe. When Billy removes the axe from Rubin's stomach, the boy naturally bleeds out and dies from the fatal wound.
Did Billy Coleman intend for the boy to die? Did any of his personal actions cause the boy's death? Was it murder or just a horrible accident?
"Where the Red Fern Grows" author Wilson Rawls, an American author who published the book in 1961, and told the tale through flashback, mysteriously offered no explanation or conclusions in dealing with the Pritchard boy's death.
The gifted education program decided that it was time to solve the mystery once and for all in the form of the literary mock trial.
Sixth grade Amelia Middle School student Kara Scott was the leading defense attorney for the accused.
"We worked on preparing the mock trial project for five weeks," she said. "It was a very fun and enjoyable thing to do. We learned so much, especially how to set up a courtroom, how to present and then ask the pertinent questions, how much time it takes the many parties involved to prepare, and all of the many things involved in how the whole judicial process works in this country."
Which, according to Amelia Middle School 6th grade gifted education and language arts teacher Rena Ford, was exactly the whole point of the exercise.
"The students did all of the work and preparation for this, including writing the very lengthy script" she said. "They had to work very hard and dig very deep for evidence in order to effectively present their cases today. My hope is that the kids learn that literature is so much more than just reading a book and responding to what the author has written down on paper. I hope they learn the life lessons from the themes in the book (and there are many) and that there are many poignant things that can be applied and linked to their own lives."
The student's mock trial scene was lively, the narrative was riveting, and the performances were formally entertaining. Oh, and in the end, the defense proved their case - the jury found that Billy Coleman was innocent of all charges.