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Power to the pupils: Cascade View Elementary students elect Romney, McKenna in mock election | Slideshow
“So if the governor is like the president for the state, then what does the Legislature do?”
“How many Senators and Representatives do we vote for?”
“Why can’t we just pass the law?”
The rapid-fire questions in Kate Sharkey’s classroom last Monday, Oct. 29, could have been the outline for the class she was teaching. They might also pass for questions from actual voters, with a few exceptions.
One of Sharkey’s fifth graders asked if all the offices on the ballot were based in Washington D.C., and Sharkey explained that there are state senators and representatives to elect, as well as U.S. officers.
In a lesson on how to find information they’ll need to make an informed vote—in about eight years—Sharkey’s students revealed a surprising awareness of not only the issues at stake, but also how the election results could affect them personally.
For instance, Madison had decided to vote against I-1240, regarding charter schools, when she voted on Friday.
“I think I like public schools better,” she explained. “I like the teacher (job) security, and I think I might want to be a teacher some day. Plus, anybody can go to them.”
Kenzie Saunders was leaning toward Barack Obama in the presidential race, saying “I like Obama’s ideas basically, except for defense… he thinks it’s really good to keep supporting students and teachers, but Romney doesn’t.”
She knows all of this because she’s been doing her homework, along with the other 104 fifth graders at Cascade View. Each of the fifth grade teachers has spent the past few weeks giving out assignments like political issue essays, and researching issues for an informal, but respectful debate on the candidates’ views.
“The presidential race is the one they’re really excited about so we’ve spent a lot of time on that,” explained Sharkey.
Students also learned about the basic structure of government, and how important the job of being an informed voter is.
“You have the coolest job in the world,” Sharkey told her students, “which is, you get a say in how the government works!”
However, to do a good job, she told them, “You guys have to learn how to help yourselves… how to find the information, so you can decide for yourself. And it’s fun!”
Most of the class agreed, although a few did keep asking for the “right” answer. “I never give you the answers,” Sharkey said, receiving a class-wide groan in response.
Alicia Hikes, a parent volunteering at the fifth grade election party last Friday, Nov. 2, was impressed with how unbiased Sharkey and all of the fifth grade teachers have been on this subject.
“I just know that they’ve been very non-partisan,” Hikes said, adding that her daughter, Ella, really enjoyed this part of the class.
“But she’s got a lot of opinions, and it wouldn’t matter what her father and I told her,” Hikes added. “She tries to sway my opinion… sometimes I think she has more facts than I do!”
Parents were asked to remain neutral on the topics, too, Sharkey said, but a lot of these alert students already knew how their parents felt.
During the party, fifth graders played games, made posters, enjoyed a potluck, and, most importantly, voted in the Washington Secretary of State’s mock election, open to all schools in the state.
“It was really awesome!” said Dillen Fullagar, proudly sporting both “Don’t forget to vote!” and “I Voted” stickers, and sounding much older than his age. “I find that students need opportunities to express their opinions,” he said.
Every teacher would have agreed with him. Sharkey said that respect, along with research, was emphasized throughout the elections unit, and she was very pleased with the results.
“As much as people like to argue about politics, we really should step back and think about how amazing it is that we are able to voice an opinion,” she said. I think these kids really learned that through this unit, as we saw arguments turn into polite deb