Student voters learn to have an opinion

Lemon Bay High School on Election 2012

SUN PHOTOS BY TOM CHANG
A few students in Marty Blair’s senior civics class at Lemon Bay High School are eligible to vote today. They include Taylor Katsarelas, Justin Zepf, David Lenard, Katie Scott, Jenny Morehouse, Tim Holloway, and Kyler Constantine.

ENGLEWOOD — Schools are using the 2012 election as a learning tool about civic duty.

Vineland Elementary and L.A. Ainger Middle school students voted in recent mock elections after spending much of the semester learning about the presidential candidates.

‘The children are talking to their parents more compared to before’ said Heidi Adams, who coordinated the mock election at Vineland. Adams said the idea for the mock election may have been inspired by the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest.

‘Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis came in a few weeks ago and did a presentation with the fifth graders on how their vote counts,’ said fifth-grade teacher Michele Meservey.

Students filled out paper ballots after registering. Barack Obama won 62-61.

Students used laptops to vote online at http://www.floridastudentmockelection.com/.

‘We decided as a department that we needed to get the students engaged in the election especially in a presidential year, combined with the fact that this is the first year of teaching civics in seventh grade here in Charlotte County,’ said Tina Wood, a civics teacher at Ainger. ‘So we came up with a plan of action then we’ve been going through it the past few weeks. We decided before we can have the students vote, we wanted to put them through the campaign.’

Students were randomly selected into groups. Each group campaigned for a candidate.

‘They have to research that candidate and report out to the class,’ Wood said. ‘We’ve also been presenting bipartisan information to the students. We don’t share our views. The kids ask us who are we voting for. We don’t share that, because we like to play devil’s advocate.’

Wood said the class had a lot of Socratic-style, open-forum discussions where students didn’t raise their hands, feeding off of each other as the discussion progressed. Some of the topics included gas prices and the economy. Bullying came out as a major issue for students.

‘(Bullying) is a big deal to us,’ said Dave Quackenbush, an assistant principal at Ainger. ‘This component of the election — it’s a hot topic in the media. What we want to see is kids step up when they recognize when bullying is happening.’

Students were encouraged to research candidates through the debates and newspaper.

‘I don’t want them to just read,’ Wood said. ‘I want them to be able to summarize and come up with an opinion. I kind of challenge their opinion and they (have to be) able to defend it.’

Obama won slightly more decisively in L.A. Ainger’s mock election, 221-213.

Lemon Bay High School did not have a mock election this year, but Stamoulis registered new voters in September.

Marty Blair, a civics teacher at Lemon Bay High School, said students were very involved in the presidential debates in their class discussions and analysis.

‘There’s been a lot of excitement,’ Blair said. ‘I’ve been very pleased with the fact that students have been that interested. They just continue to build each time you give them something. In the end, they feel confident. They feel like, ‘Yes, I can make a decision.”

About 10 to 20 students are eligible to vote in her classes, Blair said. She said she’s confident even those not old enough to vote will make informed decisions in the future with what they take away from her classes, which were focused locally as much as nationally.

Seniors Jenny Morehouse and Justin Zepf are eligible to vote in the election.

‘It was a big choice we had to make,’ Morehouse said. ‘We finally got to make it on our own.’

‘For me, it was a scary experience,’ Zepf said. ‘I actually went into the (voting) place instead of getting it to the mail. As you walk in, you get all these people trying to change your opinions.’

Both said they felt pressure from their more politically-minded friends.

‘Everybody has their own opinion, but I just watched the debates and made the decision which candidate would be the best for my future as a young adult,’ Morehouse said. ‘I learned a lot in Ms. Blair’s class. I learned things about government I never learned before.’

L.A. Ainger Middle School on Election 2012

Right: Samantha Bibens and Adriana Basile register to vote at L.A. Ainger Middle School’s mock election. The final tally had President Obama winning 221-213 over Gov. Mitt Romney.

Vineland Elementary School on Election 2012

Ayden Penney, Amya Paige and Jessica Dalton sign up to vote in a mock election at Vineland Elementary in Englewood. The final tally for the mock election had President Barack Obama edging out Gov. Mitt Romney in a 62-61 decision with a single blank ballot.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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