Above, students from the Law and Public Service pathway at Roosevelt Senior High School dress and act the part of attorneys and witnesses during the Los Angeles County Mock Trial Competition.

During the Mock Trial Competition, students dress and act the part of attorneys and witnesses during a simulated legal case.

Roosevelt students portray attorneys and witnesses during the Mock Trial Competition.

It’s a gift when you experience an opportunity that alters your life for the better.

Students from the Law and Public Service pathway at Roosevelt Senior High School participated last month in the 36th annual Los Angeles County Mock Trial Competition. Students portray various roles in arguing a simulated court case – a rigorous contest that helps develop their critical-thinking and communication skills while boosting their self-confidence.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to learn about political science and for those interested in the law field, too,” said Sarai Gomez, a senior enrolled in the career-focused Linked Learning pathway. “It enables students to open up, not be shy and it’s something new.”

Nearly 50 schools reviewed a pretend case in which immigrant workers alleged they had not received fair wages. The case also included accusations of human trafficking and violations of immigration laws. Portraying lawyers and witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants, students conducted research and prepared materials for their day in court.

Senior Sarai Gomez and retired state Sen. Marta Escutia.

Senior Sarai Gomez and retired state Sen. Marta Escutia.

“It’s a great opportunity to show new, untapped abilities and it’s mentally challenging,” said Gomez, who portrayed both a prosecutor and a defense attorney during the various rounds of competition. “You get to compete against other teams, use gestures like lawyers and, more importantly, show who is in command. You gain confidence in public speaking.”

Under the guidance of teacher Carlos Castillo, co-lead of the Law and Public Service pathway, Roosevelt students progressed to the semifinals. They received guidance and advice from the District’s Office of General Counsel; retired California Marta Escutia, who is now the vice president of government relations at USC; and Deputy District Attorney Susan Jung Townsend.

“Our Roosevelt High School Mock Trial team won their case and represented themselves and our community extremely well,” said School Board Member Mónica García, whose district includes Roosevelt.

Roosevelt High School students progressed to the semifinals of the rigorous Mock Trial Competition.

Roosevelt High School students progressed to the semifinals of the rigorous Mock Trial Competition.

“We are proud of these amazing pioneers who inspire all of us,” she said. “We are grateful to Mr. Castillo and Team Roosevelt, Senator Escutia and our USC partners, as well as the Office of General Counsel for their support to make history in Boyle Heights.”

Townsend, who was elected to a judgeship in the Nov. 8 election, said the mock trial competition helps students develop skills they will use the rest of their lives.

“It makes you think fast on your feet,” she said. “Students get to use critical-thinking skills and be consumed by details, including public speaking.”

Castillo said he was proud of his students – especially since this was the first time that Roosevelt had participated in the competition. The kids were set to celebrate their performance during a banquet on Thursday night.

“They learn a lot,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work and it’s fun.”

Gomez said she also was proud of Roosevelt’s efforts, and grateful for the friendships she developed with her teammates.

“Week after week, you study and work together, and support each other,” she said. “That’s priceless.”