Kids cast votes in mock election

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A first-grade student at Porters Point School studies a computerized ballot during a mock election on Tuesday, helped by a staff a member. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

A first-grade student at Porters Point School studies a computerized ballot during a mock election on Tuesday, helped by a staff a member. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

It was Election Day, and Mrs. Plunkett’s first grade students were buzzing with excitement.

As they marched down the hallway of the Porters Point School, they contemplated their two, very distinct, options: An ice cream social or a dance party?

At a designated polling place, they met principal Carolyn Millham acting as a temporary election commissioner.

With a little help from staff members, Millham examined voter identification cards that featured hand drawn self-portraits and carefully printed names. Students then made their selections at a computer station, offering a bit of demographic information to boot.

One student studied the ballot for a moment before offering an alternate solution: “I think I’ll pick both.”

Millham said she decided to hold the mock election after a few teachers expressed interest. She considered putting politicians on the ballot but exchanged the names for what she called more “developmentally appropriate” options.

She reminded the students they should respect their peers’ activity choice, even if it didn’t align with their own opinion.

“It’s never too early to start talking to kids [about elections],” Millham said.

Across town, Colchester Middle School held its own mock contest, this time using the ticket offered to townspeople at the polls across the street.

John Upchurch, a social studies teacher at CMS, started working with a group of students to organize the election a few weeks back.

Among them were eighth-graders Olivia Moore, Olivia Porter and Emmakate O’Donnell. The trio took on different organizational tasks leading up to the event. They made videos, posters and collected sample ballots from the town clerk.

At the event, high school students checked in voters by last name. The older kids were given the day off from school as Colchester voters headed down Laker Lane to vote in droves.

They were asked to register with a party in advance, online. Those who didn’t still received a ballot, a noted difference from a real election.

Upchurch said his students have spent a lot of class time discussing the candidates in this year’s race, paying particular attention to the top national offices. It’s a tricky topic to tackle in this political climate, Upchurch said, with both parties firing increasingly nasty barbs.

“A lot of them bring in something they hear from home,” Upchurch said. “They’ll bring in that anger, that passion.”

With that in mind, he tried to steer the conversation away from highly publicized moments and toward issue platforms and the duties of each position.

First grade student Hazel Sbardellati shows off her voter registration card at Porters Point School on Election Day. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

First grade student Hazel Sbardellati shows off her voter registration card at Porters Point School on Election Day. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

“We’re trying to teach them that maybe, sometimes, you should be better than the adults you’re seeing on TV,” he said. “We talk about how we should communicate with each other.”

As a student, Olivia Moore appreciated that approach. She said she took the time to analyze with whom she most closely aligned.

“Sometimes in school it’s hard to get into the whole politics thing with teachers, because they don’t want to give their own opinion,” she said.

Olivia Moore said the class discussion prompted her to pay a little more attention to the election. She tuned into all three presidential debates.

All three of Upchurch’s students said they planned to watch live coverage post-election, filling in an interactive electoral map provided by their teacher.

The eighth-graders didn’t conduct any official polling but had a few predictions based on the results of the high school mock election.

On Monday, CHS students favored Democrat Hillary Clinton on the national stage, but sent Phil Scott, a Republican, to the Vermont Statehouse.

Still, they said a high population of write-in candidates could bring an upset. Many students expressed plans to vote for a wide array of third-party candidates – from Sen. Bernie Sanders to their homeroom teacher.

Upchurch’s middle school students planned to tally the ballots during class time at the end of the week. Porters Point kids will learn how their fellow students voted when the special activity is revealed this Friday.