BUCKHANNON - Upshur County Circuit Judge Kurt Hall found himself in a classroom instead of a courtroom on Thursday.
Dressed in full judicial attire, Hall read aloud to Gabrielle Rhodes' third-grade class at Union Elementary School and answered numerous questions about the judicial system. Hall was amazed at the children's curiosity.
"This is the first time I've ever done something like this. It's clear to me now that this is something that needs to be done. Children need to be given an introduction to the courts. They have a lot of questions. I couldn't answer all the questions in the amount of time I had. But I appreciate the fact that I was able to answer a few of them," Hall said.
The event was part of the Robes to School Program initiated a few years ago by the West Virginia Supreme Court, Rhodes said.
"It's to encourage judges to get involved in the school systems by reading aloud and talking to the students about the judicial system. About two weeks ago, I contacted Judge Hall and asked if he would be willing to come in and read. He eagerly accepted," she said.
Third-graders Emily Evans and Heather Hayes enjoyed getting to know the man behind the bench. Evans said she liked the question and answer session most, while Hayes said she preferred the story Hall read aloud.
"I thought it was really cool getting to meet a judge. You get to learn more about him," Evans said.
Added Hayes, "I thought he was a great leader, and he was a great story teller."
Having Hall interact with the children provided them with a wonderful learning experience, Principal Dr. Sara Stankus said. It also reinforced the concepts students are learning in school.
Union is a "Leader in Me" school, meaning students learn the Seven Effective Habits of Highly Effective People developed by Stephen R. Covey. Having a community leaders like Hall come to the school helps bolster the concept that leadership is a trait that children can develop and nurture into adulthood, Stankus said.
"He's such a busy person. For him to take time out to read to children, first of all, speaks very clearly of his character and, second, the value he places on education and literacy as well. The read-aloud volunteers are critical to what we're doing here in school," she said.
"When Judge Hall comes as a community leader, as someone of integrity, it's another way for students to see that leadership is not just about what you get, it's about what you give. That's where the value is. We teach a lot about the value of service and the importance of service. He's setting all of those examples for our students," Stankus added.
This is the first year the third-graders are learning about the different branches of government, Rhodes said. Hall's visit was a great way to move beyond learning from a textbook.
"Rather than them read about it in social studies books, this is a hands-on experience that they won't forget because it was a real-life experience," she said. "The students are very inquisitive. We've taught them that's how they learn, by asking questions."
Hall just hopes the students got as much out of the experience as he did.
"It was absolutely incredible. They were a very bright bunch of kids. They were enthusiastic. I hope they enjoyed it. I feel like I got more out of it than they did," he said.