To celebrate the second anniversary of Empire’s need-based scholarship program, we sat down with Danielle Roberts of the Axam-Roberts Legal Group, coach of last year’s Empire Atlanta scholarship recipient: Elite Scholars Academy from Georgia. Under her leadership, this extraordinary group made their Empire debut in 2016, leaving their mark on the Empire Family with their warmth and exuberance.
We are so grateful for all that Danielle has done for her students, and appreciate the time she gave us for this interview. Here we go!
Hi Danielle! Can you start by telling us where Elite Scholars is located?
Of course. Elite Scholars Academy (ESA) is a Clayton County Public School located in Morrow, Georgia. It was established in 2009 as a public charter school, with a strong academic focus. In 2016, the school terminated its charter status and now serves as an Early College Magnet in the Clayton County Public School System. ESA offers Honors and AP courses and a Dual Degree Program for upper classmen. One hundred percent of the student body is eligible for free and reduced lunch status.
Do you know how the mock trial program at your school was started?
As a partnership with a group of attorneys six years ago and has since competed at the district and regional levels – with growing success.
How did you hear about Empire?
Katie Powers, Coach of the Jonesboro Mock Trial Team, spoke with me about Empire. She stressed that the Empire experience would be value for the Elite Scholars students.
What made you decide to participate?
Our Mock Trial Coaching Team was looking for an experience that would competitively stretch our students and give them a greater exposure to high achieving students from other places. Empire aligned with our goal of developing the students we work with into confident, respectful, culturally aware citizens.
How, if at all, did Empire’s scholarship enable you to participate in the program?
In 2016, and again in 2017, Elite Scholars was ranked by the Washington Post as one of America’s most challenging schools. It had been recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014 and a Georgia School of Excellence in Student Achievement in 2012. However, for all of its achievements, many of the students are limited in exposure beyond their traditional classroom experiences because they are limited financially. The Empire scholarship created the opportunity for high achieving students to participate in a competition they would not otherwise have been able to experience. As promised, it was an invaluable experience. Our students benefitted academically and socially as they prepared for the competition and they interacted with students from across the country.
What was your impression, as a coach, of the Empire experience?
I was extremely impressed with the Empire Mock Trial Program. The Empire experience is well-structured and offered a mock trial experience more closely aligned with real life trial experience. This provided a more realistic experience for our students. They were challenged to develop a trial strategy and were exposed to pre-trial proceedings. Developing a trial strategy shaped persuasive opening and closing arguments, critical thinking about direct and cross examination, what exhibits to use and how, and even the order of witnesses. The students particularly enjoyed the pre-trial arguments which enhanced their understanding of our legal system and constitutional rights.
In addition, the opportunity to meet with such a diverse range of students from across the country, in the trials and at the ceremonies, was invaluable.
What would you tell a school that has never competed in an Empire program?
It’s a lot of work, but it is worth every minute of preparation. It will stretch critical thinking skills and reinforce the need for disciplined preparation. It will also foster team development since the students teams must work together to tell a comprehensive story at trial. After the Empire experience, students will be more competitive at the State level. And they will have a better understanding of our legal system, as well.
Is there anything else that you want us to know?
Empire administrators were supportive and helpful in resolving issues and challenges.
The experience was awesome, and we will be forever grateful that our students had the opportunity to compete at Empire.
And we are forever grateful for you, Danielle! Thank you for sharing your story with your Empire Family.
Empire is now accepting applications for the 2017 season. The organization will once again offer three (3) need-based scholarships. You can apply now at: http://empiremocktrial.org/apply. But don’t wait! The scholarship deadline is June 1, just one week away, while the general deadline is June 23.