Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 17, 2012

Teacher transforms class into miniature criminal justice system

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— When teens fall asleep in Lee Bargerhuff’s criminal justice class at the Kokomo Area Career Center, student police officers pull out cell phones and take photos for evidence.

Then the sleepy high-schooler is “arrested” and charged with breaking classroom rules.

The alleged rule-breaker’s fate is later decided at a mini-trial run by student judges and attorneys.

It’s a creative way to discipline students, Bargerhuff said. But it’s keeping in line with the ultimate goal for the class — giving kids real-world, hands-on experience.

“Early in the year, it was my desire to establish a criminal justice environment in my classroom,” he said.

That meant every student chose a job in the field. Some are police officers, detectives or crime scene investigators. Others are jail wardens, parole officers, judges or attorneys.

The teens know their roles when someone in class is “arrested.”

Junior Logan Sarver laughed a little as he recounted his arrest and the trial that followed.

Officers took him into custody after he walked by a classmate’s desk and hit the kid on the shoulder. He was accused of breaking the 13th rule on the class list: not inflicting mental or physical abuse on others.

After the arrest, officers gathered evidence and witness statements, and attorneys started making their cases.

Sarver said he could have accepted a plea deal.

Ninety-five percent of cases are bargained out, Bargerhuff said.

But not this one.

“I tried to fight it,” Sarver said. “But I was definitely guilty. There were too many witnesses.”

A judge issued his punishment. For a whole day, he couldn’t get up out of his desk seat, he said, with a laugh.

It’s not like Sarver didn’t know the rules, though. He helped create them.

Students came up with a list of 34 classroom rules. They include promises to take good notes, avoid stealing, avoid intentionally damaging or destroying materials or equipment and coming to class well-rested, among others.

Students said the rule about being well-rested is the hardest to follow. Under that rule, they’re not even allowed to lay their heads on their desks. So that rule occasionally gets broken, they said.

But they said they have witnessed less behavior problems since Bargerhuff implemented the new system.

The first-time teacher said he’s only had a handful of discipline problems this year.

When the cops and attorneys and judges aren’t carrying out justice in the classroom, they have other roles.

Every morning the police officers go out and do parking lot patrol at the career center. There is a lot there that is only for people with permits. They make sure students and faculty are abiding by that, they said.

They issue blue warning tickets to violators and orange stickers to repeat offenders.

Bargerhuff said he wants the students to get a clear picture of the jobs they chose, so he makes the police officers write reports up after they patrol the parking lots each day.

That was an eye-opener for sophomore Trevon Johnson, who is among the student police officers.

“I didn’t know how much paperwork was involved,” he said.

Students have also learned how to write out search warrants based on surveillance footage, and they responded to a fake prison escape.

Bargerhuff left footprints outside as clues, and several students were hiding in bushes with pretend guns.

The rest of the class had to hunt the escapees down. The team communicated with each other via radios during the search.

“He does a good job of making everything real,” said sophomore Audrey Hogan.

That realness will surely help her when she goes to find a job after high school.

“I want to be a paralegal, so I get a lot of practice writing reports,” she said. “I actually know how to set up a search warrant now.”