This story recently appeared in the winter 2012 edition of Harker Quarterly.
In November, Harker students across all three campuses joined American voters, and global observers, by getting caught up in pre-election and Election Day fever!
At the lower and middle school campuses, students learned firsthand what it’s like to cast their votes for a presidential candidate, thanks to two separately held mock elections. Meanwhile, at the upper school, the Junior States of America (JSA) club conducted an innovative pre-election poll of staff and faculty (instead of students as they have in previous election years).
The results of the anonymous lower and middle school mock elections mirrored those of the real one – with President Barack Obama emerging as the winner. The results of the upper school poll (which favored Obama) were published in the online daily news feed of the student newspaper, The Winged Post. The JSA also hosted a Pizza and Politics evening on election night for students to convene, enjoy dinner and watch election coverage together.
The lower school saw Obama capturing 73 percent of the vote during its mock election, which was held on Oct. 30 for the entire student body in advance of the real election. Kristin Giammona, elementary school head, credited the lower school teachers with helping to prepare the students for their big voting turnout, which was conducted online with a weeklong absentee voting period.
Long after their voting sessions had ended, lower school students proudly continued wearing their “I voted” stickers on their shirts. The lower campus election was tied into part of a larger nationwide mock election effort called Every Kid Votes, designed specifically for elementary school students. In fact, Harker youngsters joined more than 1.19 million children participating in the program, sponsored by American Legacy Publishing, the publishers of Studies Weekly Publications.
“The main purpose of education is to produce a self-governing citizenry,” said Ed Rickers, president of Studies Weekly, explaining why the mock election was so productive.
Educating students about the presidential election process from an early age was certainly the goal at Bucknall, where even kindergartners voted during the first 10 minutes of their computer science classes. In Lisa Hackwood’s afternoon computer class, the youngsters were instructed that they were going to have a chance to cast their votes just like their parents.
“You know how mom and dad vote … now you get a chance!” said Hackwood to the class. “To cast your vote you just click on your candidate shown onscreen. And remember to keep it to yourself; voting is private.”
Kindergartner Avayna Glass was an old hand at voting, having done something similar in preschool for a different mock election. At first she was undecided whether to vote for the “dark-haired or gray-haired guy.” But eventually she made up her mind, keeping her decision, as instructed, to herself.
In grades 1 and 2 voting was done in homeroom classes. Grade 3 voted in their study skills classes, grade 4 in social studies, and grade 5 in computer science. And, in addition to the mock election, grade 1 students in Rita Stone’s class also held a second election on Election Day for a favorite storybook character, while second graders voted on their favorite cereals.
Using paper ballots and a voting booth, grade 1 homeroom teachers supervised their students’ book character voting at various times throughout the day. Students were instructed to put a check mark next to the top character of their choice. They were told they could pick only one from the following: Amelia Bedelia, Mrs. Frizzle, Harry the Dirty Dog, Elephant and Piggy, and Froggy.
And the winner went to … Elephant and Piggy with 32 votes! Mrs. Frizzle came in second with 19 votes and Harry the Dirty Dog, 18. Lagging behind was Froggy with just eight votes and poor Amelia Bedelia came in last place with zero.
“The first graders became really interested in the election … our mock elections and the real one! They were all talking about it the next day,” enthused Stone.
In grade 3, teacher Heather Russell’s afternoon class voted on an iPad at a back table set up with a divider and curtain. Before having the class vote, she spoke about what to expect and how an election works in real life. Hands went up as students eagerly participated in the discussion. “Not every country has the right, or privilege, to vote,” explained Russell.
Emilia Long, grade 3, was the first one to vote in the makeshift, curtained-off voting booth. Both presidential candidates appeared on the iPad and all the students had to do was tap the one they wanted to vote for. Emerging from the voting area, she said, “That was really fun. Now I have a better idea of what my parents are doing when they go to vote.”
At the middle school, students had a regular schedule on the Nov. 6 Election Day and voted during their advisory periods, which met in the morning. Grades 6-7 voted in their advisory rooms and grade 8 voted in the main gym. Unlike the high-tech national voting process of the lower school, middle schoolers voted via paper ballots which had been distributed to advisory teachers in advance. After voting in their designated areas, the students’ ballots were then collected, combined and hand counted in the library by mock election organizers Bernie Morrissey, the librarian, and Pat White, who teaches history.
“We held our election on Election Day – the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November – per the U.S. Constitution,” explained White.
Even Ellen DeGeneres got a vote in the middle school mock election, generating some great classroom discussions about third party and independent candidates. Standing outside the gym, sporting Harker Eagles sweatshirts and khaki shorts, were grade 8 students Alex Mo, Shekar Ramaswamy and Anthony DeVincenzi. The trio agreed that the mock election had been an impactful experience.
Ramaswamy called mock elections important because they “give students a sense of responsibility and an idea about the role politics play in society.”
“It was really fun,” added DeVincenzi. “Now I’m more interested in watching the election coverage on television.”
Election enthusiasm ran just as high at the upper school during the Pizza and Politics event held in the Bistro, which kicked off at 5 p.m. when the East Coast polls closed. It was attended by approximately 65 students and faculty members. Organized by JSA officers, Pizza and Politics was designed to increase political interest in the community as well as publicize the intentions and ideas behind JSA.
The upper school further kept the election excitement momentum moving by using it as a springboard to put many of the lessons that students learned to practical use. Butch Keller, upper school head, had earlier advised teachers to give their students the opportunity to watch the historic elections on Election Day by lightening that night’s homework load. Some teachers opted to make homework creatively tied to the elections.
Said JSA president Sachin Vadodaria, grade 11: “As Harker JSA is all about increasing youth interest in politics and leadership, we saw the elections, both national and state, as a great way to increase student interest in politics, or at least have people think and talk about these political decisions which ultimately do affect all of us.”
Thanks to Harker’s mock and other pre- and post-election activities – and regardless of whether or not students were in favor of Obama – all the grades agreed on one thing: politics can be fun!