Leaders in Action field trip to Charles Town Historic Court House

Leaders in Action 2013, kicked off this year with a curriculum based on local government in Jefferson County, WV. The unit has given our students at Charles Town and Harpers Ferry Middle Schools the chance to focus on community involvement, Jefferson County government, and local, independent businesses. Not only are our students learning about laws and policies that effect their everyday lives, they are actively understanding the importance of our government in a lively, interactive setting.

On February 4th and 5th, students attended a field trip to the Charles Town Historic Court House. We were graciously hosted by the honorable Judge David H. Sanders, Jefferson County Delegate Stephen Skinner, and Dale Manuel, the newly elected President of the County Commission. The students were exposed to important West Virginia history including the opportunity to sit in the exact seats where the West Virginia Supreme Court previously was held. This court room also held the notorious lawsuit trials regarding the separation of West Virginia and Virginia, an essential part of our state’s past.

Judge Sanders greeted us as we entered the court house and then elaborated on the rich history that the Charles Town Historic Court House encases.  We discovered that the actual court house has appeared in famous movies as a result of the interesting past and historical significance that lies beyond the surface. Charles Town Court House is well known as the home of the John Brown Trial, following a failed attempt by Brown to incite an uprising to abolish slavery in the country. John Brown, an abolitionist in 1859, was tried for treason and hanged a short distance from the Court House steps. Judge Sanders gave us many interesting facts regarding the trial along with additional information from other historic hearings.

Dale Manuel, president of the Jefferson County Commission, gave the group a detailed background concerning the overall duties of the Jefferson County Commission. While showcasing his specific duties, Commissioner Manuel discussed the overall process to become an elected official. The students were then introduced to a citizen volunteer position known as a page. A page is used to deliver messages and run errands while state legislature meetings are in session. The page experience can expose young adults to the process of making laws and solving issues that directly affect our community.

Stephen Skinner, Jefferson County Delegate and local lawyer, introduced the students to what it means to be a delegate. As an experienced debater, Stephen led a discussion focused on education at the counties’ public schools.  Our students were able to discuss what they would like to change about the current education system; some examples were healthier food options at lunch, starting school at a later time, and having longer weekends. Delegate Skinner chose two representatives to debate the option of having Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off of school. One student described their viewpoints regarding why Jefferson County Schools should have longer weekends, while the other student defended the current weekend system. Both students used excellent examples of why they believe the weekends should or should not be changed, as well as solutions to fix the problem such as shorter summer breaks to make up the missed days. The case was closed with a final decision to keep the current weekend system in place.  Lastly, Delegate Skinner encouraged the children to watch the “State of the State” on West Virginia Local TV as they will be discussing concerns that influence their lives, including education.

Overall, the field trip to the Charles Town Historic Court House enriched our students’ minds and allowed them to interact with the officials who help shape our Jefferson County community.

(Sarah Nowicki is an AmeriCorps VISTA at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center).

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