Program helps students learn about elections

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What would happen in the Nov. 4 general election if 9- and10-year-olds could vote?

Democratic candidate Barack Obama would have the election allsewn up if the third and fourth graders of Brookhaven ElementarySchool had their say.

The Illinois senator defeated the Arizona Republican Sen. JohnMcCain by the healthy margin of 266-182 Monday in a school-widemock election conducted as part of Secretary of State DelbertHosemann’s “Promote the Vote” program.

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The blue party wasn’t as successful on the state level, however,as Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran defeated Democraticchallenger Erik Fleming 229-188 for a spot in the Senate. Theelementary students also decided to send appointed Sen. RogerWicker, a Republican, back to his duties in the Senate instead ofDemocratic former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove by a vote of 211-128.

The students’ randomness in party selection is evidence of thefact that during their almost one-month study of the electionprocess, BES math, science and history teacher Kristi Adams avoidedpolitics.

“We mostly did this to get the students to understand it’s aprivilege and an honor to vote,” she said. “They’ve had a greattime studying the election process.”

During the past few weeks, Adams said BES students have coveredthe basics of the Office of the President of the United States, therequirements to be president, voting age and other requirements,the party system, political terminology and the ElectoralCollege.

The young minds were well motivated by the discussion.

“The students have asked a lot of questions – some I couldn’tanswer,” Adams said. “We had to look them up online.”

The questions weighing heaviest on the students’ hearts, Adamssaid, was why they couldn’t vote.

“Why do adults feel like (children) don’t have enough sense tovote at their age – some were pretty adamant about not being ableto vote,” she said.

Adams said she was surprised by the students’ awareness of thenation’s politics before the study unit began. She said the processstarted with students discussing what they already knew, and thestudies went from there.

The students listened to snippets from both presidential andboth vice presidential candidates’ nomination speeches in class,and most of the students watched the debates at home without beingprompted, Adams said. They were back discussing the debates thenext day, she said.

Now that the study is over and the mock election complete, Adamssaid the discourse has had a noticeable effect on her students.

“I’ve noticed a little more pride when we do the Pledge ofAllegiance,” she said. “We talked a lot about patriotism, aboutpicking the right person to be president. Whomever you choose,choose because they’re going to do the right thing, not becausethey’re your buddy.”

BES fourth grade gifted teacher Sue Windham said “Promote theVote” and its accompanying mock election is a form of citizentraining for the school’s youngsters.

“Long term, we’ll have a new generation of voters,” she said.”They understand this is a civic responsibility. Some of them havesaid they can’t wait to turn 18 and go vote. I hope the parentstake them to the precincts during the election to let them get alook at the real process.”

The training was not lost on 9-year-old Sulli Donegan, who saidshe would vote every chance she got when she turns 18 in nineyears. She said many of her classmates feel the same way.

“I think a lot of people in the classes are pretty interested,”she said. “Everyone tries to be first to answer the questions whenthe teacher asks about it. Nine-year-olds don’t really get to dothis a lot.”

Donegan is a self-educated political enthusiast. While herteachers avoided tainting the students with modern politics duringthe course, she has taken notice of some of the presidential race’sfiner qualities.

“I think it’s pretty cool when they mud-sling each other,”Donegan said with a giggle. “I’m not really sure why, it’s justsomething I like to watch.”

Across the state, an estimated 205,000 students at more than 500schools are expected to cast ballots for president, senator andcongressman in “Promote the Vote” mock elections being conductedMonday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Other area schools signed up toparticipate include Brookhaven Academy, Brookhaven High School,Loyd Star, West Lincoln and Bogue Chitto.

Statewide mock election results are expected to be postedThursday, said a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’sOffice.