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Separation of Powers

Photo by Connor Raborn

HAMMOND HIGH - Interim Principal Shelly Gaydos presents HHMS shirts to Hammond Judge Grace Bennett Gasaway, Clerk of Court Guy Recotta Jr. and Mayor Pete Panepinto at Law Day Tuesday morning.

by Connor Raborn reporter@hammondstar.com

The three branches of U.S. government were on display under one roof at City Court of Hammond Tuesday morning, courtesy of high school freshmen.

Two of Kristina Bankston's Hammond High Magnet School freshman English classes formed three groups, each representing a different branch and performing a skit to demonstrate that branch's powers. The event was held in observation of Law Day, the 2018 theme of which was separation of powers.

Students portrayed the president explaining his powers, U.S. Congress designating a national park and the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a law infringing on free speech.

"They did a great job," Bankston said. "Most of them are not confident speakers in front of people, and they wanted to do this anyway."

They spoke in front of an audience peppered with public officials including Mayor Pete Panepinto, Police Chief James Stewart, city council member Jason Hood, Tangipahoa Parish Clerk of Court Gary Stanga, Parish Assessor JR. Matheu, school board member Sandra Bailey-Simmons and Ponchatoula Police Chief Bry Layrisson.

Hammond Judge Grace Bennett Gasaway presided, and Clerk of Court Guy Recotta Jr. introduced the students. The freshmen are in the pre-diploma program English class, which is part of the International Baccalaureate program.

Tuesday's skits began as skeleton scripts by Bankston that her students revised - or in one case rewrote - to make them their own. This scriptwriting and the following rehearsals were added to the students' already busy end-of-the-year schedule.

"They have a pretty vigorous course load on top of that," she said. "It's something to kind of break up the monotony."

Her students would remind her in previous weeks when it was time to rehearse the skits near the end of class, and they worked on their lines at home.

In the skit representing the executive branch, a group of students thanked the president, played by Adam Sawyer, for a tour of the White House and asked him if he could pass a law raising the speed limit to 100 mph. Following the audience's laughter, Sawyer explained the president's powers to veto bills but not make laws.

"It gave more of a visual explanation of government," Sawyer said after the event's conclusion.

"I like how we gave information that's easy to understand," Shanyce Lazarte said. Lazarte played the president in the third act, which focused on the judicial branch.

Students wearing traditional judge's robes (temporarily repurposed teacher's graduation robes) ascended the bench around Lazarte to discuss a bill proposing that all speech against the government be outlawed. Students before the bench raised posters protesting the bill, and the mock judges ruled against the bill.

The second act showed the process of the legislative branch. Two hikers enjoyed a walk through a forest when one decided to buy the land and clear it for property. The other hiker wrote to his senator requesting the land be named a national forest to protect it. A group playing senators passed a bill making the designation, followed in kind by another group as the house.

Hammond High Magnet School has participated in the Law Day activities at the city court twice previously.

Interim Principal Shelly Gaydos said the presentations had the students study cases relevant to the issues within the skits.

"It allows them to apply their knowledge. It's a presentation, but they learn along the way," Gaydos said. "Just to see how the whole system works, to act it out, gives them a different level of understanding."

The observance of Law Day may also benefit lawmakers and those in the legal system.

"It kind of refreshes our memory of where we need to go," Gasaway said.

The event also featured Ponchatoula High School students. Taylor Tumulty performed the national anthem, and the school's ROTC marched in the presentation of colors.

Refreshments outside the courtroom were provided by the culinary students of Hammond High's ProStart program.

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