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Students Debate Weighty Issues On Senior Ethics Day

The 15-year-old defendant got off easy: either not guilty or a light sentence requiring 150 hours of community service.

In a mock trial that was part of Senior Ethics Day at Marshall High School last week, the student was charged with involuntary manslaughter after her best friend died in a car wreck.

The defendant, given the fictitious name of Alice Sky, had tried to drive her home after she got drunk at a party. But she had no driver’s license, and she had never driven a car with manual transmission before that night. She lost control, wrecked the car, and killed her best friend.

Alice Sky, characterized during this mock trial as an honor student who might nurse one beer at a party but never got drunk, had made a series of poor decisions. As her defense, she was portrayed as someone who was operating under intense peer pressure as she tried to protect her friend from her own bad choices: drinking, lying to her parents and avoiding responsibility.

Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Gayl Carr, who portrayed herself in the mock trial, wasn’t sympathetic. Each time a table of eight Marshall High School seniors, who were serving as juries, found the girl not guilty, Carr questioned them about other choices that were open to her.

COULD SHE HAVE CALLED police? Could she have called her parents? Could she have slept over at the house where the party was being held?

Most of the students cited the phrase with which Carr had charged them as juries, saying they didn’t find the girl’s behavior to be “gross, wanton and culpable.”

But the bottom line, under Carr’s questioning, was accountability and responsible decision-making. In one of four sessions, only one of 10 tables serving as juries found the girl guilty. That “verdict” got a nod of approval from Carr.

Marshall’s fourth annual Senior Ethics Day was held at George Mason University this year to emulate the professionalism of the workplace and bring members of the senior class into a campus environment, said parent coordinator Gretchen Zience.

“We wanted to give them the feel of the campus,” she said. “The whole idea is the next step in their lives."

Of 320 seniors at Marshall, about 300 took part, spending the day in a student building at George Mason and then returning to Marshall at the end of the day.

THE DAY WAS a logistical challenge for Zience, who made the travel arrangements and helped find 40a dults to serve as table leaders, one for each group of eight students.

Another 10 adults, including Carr, volunteered to serve as facilitators for the four different “modules” presented during the day.

Each one required the students to think their way through an ethical or business dilemma.

In addition to the trial, they also viewed a video about a real-life incident in which a college student stood by wordlessly as his friend murdered a woman he’d picked up while gambling in Las Vegas.

The friend was not prosecuted as an accessory to murder, and the students evaluated whether he should have been.

VOLUNTEERS FROM Booz Allen Hamilton and Lockheed Martin presented ethical dilemmas arising from the workplace.

Volunteers who served as table leaders came from several civic groups in Vienna, including the Lions, Rotary and Optimists. Vienna Presbyterian Church, the town of Vienna and many businesses provided volunteers who set aside their business duties to spend the day serving as mentors for the students.

Matt Brennan of Brennan & Waite helped find the volunteers, and played the role of the prosecutor in the mock trial. Scott Townsend, another attorney, played the defense attorney. Marshall theater students played roles as Alice Sky and several witnesses.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm in the business community for doing this,” said Zience.

“The kids liked meeting them, and getting to know a businessperson.

It was a wonderful experience. They really liked it.”

The volunteers, Zience said, “loved getting the kids to exchange their ideas and views.”

Ethics Day has become a tradition at Marshall, with next year’s program scheduled to take place in the fall, again at George Mason.