LAS CRUCES >> Just before Christmas, Laura Martinez’s plans to visit her father in Atlanta abruptly changed. Martinez, a 17-year-old senior at New America School in Las Cruces, had an important interview, closer to home.
Martinez learned that she had won an essay contest sponsored by the New Mexico Human Rights Project, and had been selected as one of 16 semifinalists for an all-expense-paid trip to Krzyzowa, Poland, to participate in the Model International Criminal Court Mock Trials.
“I probably worked harder on that essay than I’ve ever worked in my life,” Martinez said.
Tony Ray, a teacher at New America School, instructs Martinez in two classes — English and Democracy. It was Ray who shared the contest with his students, and worked extensively with those who chose to compete.
The contest was open to all high school juniors and seniors in New Mexico. In essays limited to 500 words, they were asked to answer two questions: “What, in your view, is international justice and why is it important?” and “Give two reasons why the USA should participate in the International Criminal Court and two reasons it should not.”
“We started with about eight students,” said Ray. “We knew very little about international justice, but we spent about three weeks learning about it.” Three of Ray’s students ultimately submitted essays, and Martinez was the only semifinalist from Las Cruces.
To whittle the field of 16 to the final eight, NMHRP scheduled an interview in Albuquerque.
The interview was scheduled for two days after she was supposed to leave to Atlanta. She called her father, and told him she wouldn’t be able to see him over the holidays.
“I felt awful, because I only get to see him once or twice a year,” she said. “But I knew this was the chance of lifetime. I felt like an awful daughter, but my dad was totally supportive.”
New America School Principal Margarita Porter joined Martinez in Albuquerque for the interview, and sat with her in the waiting room to lend moral support.
“I was really nervous,” said Martinez. “There were six judges, each with different backgrounds. For example, one was a genocide survivor, another was an FBI agent, and there was a retired schoolteacher.”
After the interview, Martinez felt like she had done well.
Driving back to Las Cruces, she was notified that she had been selected as a finalist, and would be part of the team that will go to Poland. Her seven teammates are from schools in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Together, they’ll be the only team representing the United States, and will work with students from Germany, Israel and Poland in presenting the mock trials.
Preparing for Poland
Since winning, Martinez has received her case materials and role assignment for the case she’ll be trying in Poland.
“I’ll be a prosecutor on the Erdemovic case,” said Martinez. In 1995, Dra en Erdemovic, a member of the Bosnian Serb Army, participated in the killing of Bosnian Muslim men. Erdemovic said he recalled killing about 70 people. Ultimately, the court found Erdemovic had acted under duress — that he feared for his life if he refused to carry out the orders — and sentenced him to five years.
“I’ve written a position statement and studied the case. I’ll meet with my team when I get there,” Martinez said. “On my team, I’ll be joining a student from each of the other countries—Israel, Poland and Germany.”
On Saturday, Martinez and her fellow finalists will fly from Albuquerque to Berlin, Germany. After a day or two in Berlin, they’ll take a bus to Poland where they’ll meet up with the other competitors. The trip — 5,734 miles each way — is scheduled to last 10 days.
Porter said that she couldn’t be more proud of what Martinez has accomplished.
“I’m so proud that she chose to come to New America School,” Porter said. “There are no words to express how we feel — beyond proud.” Martinez previously attended Centennial High School, where she took one mock trial class.
New America School is a state charter school that opened in 2012 in downtown Las Cruces. The high school offers day and evening classes, and 65 percent of the school’s students are over the age of 21, who have returned to school to complete their high school education.