"A jury of your peers has found you guilty of eggs-termination," said Judge Juliette Rosenberg with the deepest intonations that a fifth-grader can muster. "I hereby sentence you to work at Foster Farms taking care of chickens."
As the three defendants hung their heads and dabbed their eyes with tissues, whoops of laughter and applause came from the audience.
So ended an unusual week at Sylvan Park Elementary School in Van Nuys. To a casual observer, the exercise that centered around the care of raw eggs by fifth-grade students might be construed as superfluous, an activity that took time away from learning the basics.
But teachers and administrators at the school will argue against that conclusion. At a school where almost 85% of the students are Latino, many of whom come from homes where only Spanish is spoken, the egg exercise allowed the students to see how facile they had become with English through their use of a never-ending string of egg puns.
Ideas on the proper roles for males and females were shaken when the boys in Gina Smith-DeVille's class discovered that they often took better care of their eggs than did some of the girls.
The trial--which featured a court reporter whose fingers flew competently across the keyboard of an Apple IIe computer, an articulate public defender, a fiery prosecutor, aggressive news reporters, an intimidating bailiff and a judge with Solomon-like wisdom-- introduced the students to a host of new careers.
An eggs-traordinary exercise, to say the least.
The egg project was the brainchild of Harriet Corn, the school's bilingual coordinator.
"We wanted to do something that would show them the meaning of responsibility, make them more sensitive about male-female roles," Corn said. "We had to use something perishable, something they would lose if they didn't take care of it properly."
Smith-DeVille's class was divided into groups of eight students; each group received two eggs.
Eggs Adopted, Dressed
Students received adoption papers for their eggs. The children carefully drew faces on their eggs, made little hats and clothing for their charges and built tiny bassinets for the eggs' comfort.
The rules of the game were strict. Eggs could never be left alone. During recess, someone had to stay with the eggs while the others played. Eggs had be taken home every night and brought to school every morning. Eggs were also taken home over the weekend.
If no one wanted to stay with the eggs, a baby sitter had to be found. Baby sitters were paid through a barter system--a pencil, help with math homework or whatever the market would bear.
"During classtime, the eggs went to sleep," Smith-DeVille said. "So the experiment never interfered with their learning."
Claims of Suicide
A few eggs met with untimely demise. Several were dropped, although their owners claimed it was "suicide." Because of the losses the students decided they wanted to put some of their peers on trial.
So Friday morning, the Sylvan Park Criminal Court was called to order with defendants Daniel Gonzales, Gabriel Luna and Lourdes Pelayo on trial for being "eggs-terminators."
The turning point of the proceeding came when Los Angeles police officer Scott Gilliam, who is assigned to the school as part of Project DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, took the stand. In a forthright manner, Gilliam described finding the particles of shells scrambled in a pool of a gooey yellow substance.
"It was definitely death upon contact with concrete," Gilliam said.
The audience gasped at the revelation and the faces of the jurors became solemn.
It took only minutes for the jury to agree on a guilty verdict. Members of the audience said later that the sentence was harsh, but fair.
Smith-DeVille said that she had seen some changes during the weeklong project. The boys in her class no longer believe it is "women's work" to raise children; they now concede that men play just as important a role in nurturing young ones.
The girls learned that they do not have to shoulder all domestic duties and that they can be prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and newspaper reporters.
"It has been an eye-opening learning eggs-perience for all of us," mused Corn.