Friday, October 31, 2008

Students serious about mock election


"I think if the younger people were able to vote, we would make a change in the country," said Joseph Detz, 14.

Students across the Lower Hudson Valley have been paying close attention to the presidential race these days, spurred by teachers who are incorporating the election into lessons about American politics, government and history.

One of the most popular activities is the mock election. Many schools do a simple paper-and-pencil ballot. But North Salem High School, Pearl River High and Hommocks Middle School in Mamaroneck are using real voting booths to add to the authenticity. Students at Suffern High spent one lunch period handing out election materials in a nod to old-fashioned pavement-pounding styles.

Others have branched out through technology. South Orangetown Middle School students are holding a videoconference debate with Suffern Middle School students, with each side playing either candidate or the media. Students at Pomona Middle School in East Ramapo and at Clarkstown North High School were doing their voting online through the National Mock Election yesterday.

"The kids are so into it. This is my sixth or seventh presidential election, and I've never seen kids so engaged, so aware," Pomona Principal Brenda Shannon said. "Each of our social studies classes represents a state, so the kids have to do the research on how many electoral votes they get. It drives home the point how a homeroom that only has seven kids in it gets fewer (electoral) votes. It's absolutely amazing."

Pollsters may want to start paying closer attention to these student polls.

At Lakeland school district's Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, students have selected the winning candidate in every election year since 1968. If that's any indication of how things will turn out Tuesday, then it looks like Obama will be the next president of the United States. Obama won the popular vote 324-280.

Obama also won the popular vote at Gerald Neary School in North Rockland 227-75.

But McCain took the kindergarten-through-fifth-grade Congers Elementary School 151-128 this past week, with McCain winning votes at each grade level, except kindergarten and fifth. Second-graders especially liked McCain, voting 31-18 for his ticket.

At Fox Lane High School in Bedford, McCain, Obama and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney have student representatives who are working to win over students for an online vote Monday.

Spring Valley High School's mock debate included not only the standard McCain and Obama speakers, but "guest visits" from students representing every candidate running for president on the New York ballot, including McKinney; Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation; Roger Calero of the Socialist Workers Party; Ralph Nader, who is running an independent campaign; and Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate.

Educators at Mahopac Middle School, meanwhile, have kicked it up a notch by requiring students to register before they can vote via an electronic system. More than 90 percent of the student body had registered as of early last week. Students at Rockland's private Blue Rock School will be out on the streets of downtown Nyack on Monday with homemade signs encouraging people to vote.

"The students feel very passionate about the power of the individual vote and want to spend some of their time encouraging people to vote," Blue Rock teacher Meredith Kates said in an e-mail.

All the election work has created a buzz among youngsters who normally don't pay much attention to national balloting and may mean a more informed electorate when these students get old enough to vote for real, educators said.

"The students' conversations about it are real," Mahopac Middle School Principal Ira Gurkin said. "They know the issues, and they're talking about them."

In Rockland, some schools have added Student Council and class representative votes or local initiatives to the presidential ballots.


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