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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Mock elections give students insight into citizenship, teach other lessons

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A student at Lee Hunter Elementary School in Sikeston drops her ballot into the box as other students wait for an open polling booth to complete their ballots during the school's mock election last week. Students were given the option to vote, and the winner of the close race there was John McCain, with 181 votes over Barack Obama's 177.
(Photo by Michelle Felter, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Although the under-18 population of the United States may not be a politician's key demographic, the youth are still listening.

And, in some area schools, they are getting to make their voice heard, too, even if their vote doesn't count, through mock elections.

"It gives the children that sense of responsibility that's involved with voting," said Christy Priday, Eagles teacher for gifted students at Lee Hunter Elementary in Sikeston. "It kind of helps them to be aware of national affairs, and how they actually affect us as individuals."

Lee Hunter and Oran R-3 students were among those in the area to cast ballots in mock elections last week, and East Prairie Junior High School students are some slated to vote this week.

"We're hoping to take some of the fear about voting away from the kids before they turn 18," said Kelle Cates, sponsor of EPJHS Student Council, which is organizing the election. "I was terrified the first time I voted."

And at Oran R-3, Tammy Gaines, elementary counselor who spearheaded the school's mock election for all students, tied in the election with November's character trait, citizenship.

"The election is a good chance to be a citizen and realize 'This is what I can do,'" Gaines said of one of the messages she and others sent to students.

And students appear to be taking the election quite seriously.

"This has gotten a lot of talk, and a lot of attention," said Cates. Even in Cates' English class, she has to quiet students from their political talk and debates to begin class.

"I've heard a lot of arguments about it," said Taylor Scott, an eighth-grade student there.

EPJHS parents received letters about the mock election. And Cates and other instructors have also encouraged students to talk about the candidates and issues with their parents. "We want them to see where their parents stand and why but still make their own decisions," said Cates.

And that's advice some have taken to heart.

"Just about every night, we sit down to watch the debates or something to do with the presidential election," said Natalia Mainord. "And my brother and I watch a cable news station (for election coverage) every morning."

Even the elementary students are doing research before picking their candidates.

"I looked at what they opposed and supported to make my decision," said Annie Lancaster, a student at Lee Hunter.

"I read a presidential magazine," added classmate Josh Stinnett.

Priday said she and other teachers encourage that, especially with rumors children hear.

"They believe a lot of the negative campaigning that they hear, and I try to encourage them to validate the information they've heard by looking up research, finding out what the issues really are and what the candidates believe in and stand for," said Priday. "I tell them to cross-check their beliefs, not (base their votes) on how the candidates look, come across, who has the best commercial or that sort of thing."

Students at EPJHS said that, for most youth, advertisements are their biggest influence. And they aren't big fans of negative ads.

"If they don't tell you what is good about them, they're just telling you what's bad about the other person, what do you know about them?" said Rachel Skelton.

Cates expects several of the students to be parked in front of their televisions Tuesday night, watching the returns.

"They're just curious to see if their vote will match or even reflect what comes in that evening," she said. "They might be very upset (if their candidate doesn't win.)"

All the schools worked to make the experience real as possible. Voting was optional, but registration and identification were required. In East Prairie, there were even two polling places.

In fact, authenticity was the reason why Oran held its election last week.

"Rita Milam, the Scott County clerk, came to help us and she had the voting booths and everything," said Gaines. "It was as real as you could possibly get."

Students also learned ins and outs of elections by filling roles such as election judges and clerks.

And for teachers, the event that happens once every four years is always exciting.

"You just don't want to miss a presidential election," said Cates.

Priday agreed, and said the lessons can be cross-curricular. Not only do children learn about the democratic system and get hands-on learning in social studies classes, it can be a lesson in math while learning about the electoral college or vocabulary, with words such as caucus and population, she said.

"They're learning to respect other people's opinions," added Priday. "Their candidate may not win, but accepting that loss gracefully and working together toward the good of all is a valuable lesson to be learned here, too."

Tips for teaching tomorrow's voters

1. Take your child to vote and watch the debates with them.

Taking your child with you to vote is a lasting example of civic duty. Explain the importance of the process by telling kids that this is how we hire the people who will make government decisions for us. Also, watching the political debates between candidates should be a regular family event.

2. Role play with kids to explain their rights.

Explain civil liberties using circumstances kids understand, with parents as "the government." Illustrate privacy rights by using a child's room as a citizens' home that the government cannot enter without a warrant. Illustrate free speech by asking what's on their mind and differentiating between free speech and what's not free speech (yelling "bomb" in a school).

3. Write your Congress representative together.

Ask what your child wants changed in your community, and write a letter with them to an official with the power to change it. In doing so, make sure they realize that, in many other countries around the world, people can't ask the government to change things.

4. Illustrate the co-equal branches of government.

Play "rock, paper, scissors" to illustrate how the three branches of the U.S. government are co-equal. The President is equal to Congress, and both are equal to the Supreme Court. In different circumstances, each branch has a chance to reign over the other one. Also, if you have a 3-legged stool, have your child balance on just two of the legs, to illustrate the sturdiness of three branches of government.

5. Practice peaceful assembly.

Participate in a rally! Explain to your child that in many countries, when people gather peacefully and the government doesn't like what they say, they can be arrested. Getting your child to actively participate in political events at an early age will instill a lasting sense of patriotism and civic duty essential to preparing our next generation of voters.

Source: Cathy Travis, author of Constitution Translated for Kids