The Smith-Cotton Junior High School auditorium was buzzing all day Monday as voters filed in and listened to presentations from the candidates and their representatives before casting their ballots for president of the United States.
To bring students a lifelike experience as a way to enhance their understanding of today’s elections, the social studies instruction team designated hourly classes as states, each with the proper allotment of electoral votes. The students assembled in the auditorium, saw videos created by the campaigns of President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, listened to two students pitch for support of their candidate and then went into an election booth to vote for their preference.
Teacher Ashley Young said most students had already made up their minds about who they were going to vote for going into Monday, but still, “The classes have been spirited today, there has been a lot of cheering, a lot of banter,” he said.
Young wasn’t certain whether it was the fervor of this election season, the candidates themselves or students’ personal values, “but they are more politically in tune than they have been in the past.”
Before introducing the representatives for the Romney and Obama campaigns, teacher Brian Foster reminded the students to “be respectful of others’ choices.”
He then introduced freshman Jaron Hensley and Lanie Beard, who represented Obama and Romney, respectively.
As Jaron stepped up to the microphone, some students shouted, “Forward,” a theme of the Obama campaign. Jaron said, “We cannot go back to the time and policies that caused this mess. ... We must move forward to a better tomorrow.”
Lanie told her fellow students, “Today you will choose between the failed policies of President Obama ... or the proven leadership of Mitt Romney.”
After each student’s brief remarks, a video touting the candidate was shown. Foster said the instructors searched online for clips that did not make negative statements about the opponents.
“That was hard to do,” he said.
The idea for the electoral college mock election started during a social studies staff meeting a couple of weeks ago. Teacher Michael Desmond said he planned to do some kind of election process with his class, explaining what the different candidates hoped to accomplish. Principal Wade Norton was at the meeting, and Desmond said Norton “gave us his vision of what he was looking for, and we agreed it would be a great additional learning process for everybody.”
Desmond was impressed by how well everything came together and how the students reacted.
“The speakers did a fantastic job,” he said. “The voting booths went smoothly. Every teacher had a specific role, and they executed it brilliantly. And the students, they were passionate all day about it.”
The hallways were filled with chatter about the presidential race, with students coming by the auditorium to see which candidate was closing in on the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The classes were assigned their state designation alphabetically from the start of the day, but the faculty was assigned California and its 55 electoral votes.
As students came down from the stage after casting their ballots, classmates would grill them to see who they voted for. Seventh-grader Brice Pannier said he voted for Romney because “he can turn us around economically,” he doesn’t support abortion and he has said he will consult with commanders on military issues “instead of making his own decisions.”
Eighth-grader Octavia Engles supported Obama because “he understands people more than Romney does”; she also cited the death of Osama bin Laden and the end of the war in Iraq coming during Obama’s presidency.
At the end of the day, Obama was the victor, with 305 electoral votes compared with Romney’s 233. But Desmond noted that a look at the popular vote shows a much closer race “and could show how tight the real election will be (Tuesday).”
There were 1,076 votes cast at the junior high, with Obama winning 543-533. The faculty was separated by a single vote, 26-25 for Obama.
“It was a great day, there was energy all day long,” Desmond said. “Hopefully, the kids can go home (Tuesday) night and follow along and know what is going on. That was the whole purpose of this.”