Project imerses students in political process
Miranda McKibben, seventh grade presidential candidate, gives her speech at Reynoldsburg High School's Livingston Avenue campus Nov. 2 as part of a Gateway Gifted Academy election project. She won the presidential race and student Dru Gaver was elected vice president. Buy This Photo
Students in Reynoldsburg's Gateway Gifted Academy held their own election this month in a project that involved campaigning for the student candidates of their choice, or making speeches to promote their platforms on Nov. 1 and 2.
The 120 Gateway students normally attend classes at Baldwin Road Junior High, but the primary and general election events were held at the Reynoldsburg High School Livingston Avenue campus.
Teacher Todd Stanley said the election project grew from the Innovation Lab at Gateway.
"Through Innovation Lab, students use the STEM design process to work on projects," he said. "Given that this is an election year, we decided our first project would be the election project."
He said students learned about political parties and what a platform is, then created their own political parties.
Students attend Gateway from fifth through eighth grades and qualify for the program through test scores that identify them as gifted, Stanley said.
He said students collaborated in groups of four to five and selected who would run as candidates for vice president and president.
"Although those people (the candidates) presented the speeches, the entire group wrote them, as well as decided their position on major issues and created a party mascot and poster," he said. "They also filmed a 30-second commercial for their political party."
Since there were seven to nine groups at each grade level, Stanley said teachers decided to hold a primary for each grade level, where candidates campaigned before a panel of parents.
"Two were then selected to present at the election on Friday in front of a distinguished panel of Mayor Brad McCloud, Principal Scott Bennett and teacher Lindsay Slanec," Stanley said.
He said the winners were chosen by the panel: Miranda McKibben as president and Dru Gaver as vice president.
"Students always will surprise you with the issues they find important to them and how they approach their speeches," Stanley said. "Some students made buttons, banners, flags and plastered the hallway with campaign signs, even though that was not part of the project.
"Considering this was not a regular class and not really for a grade, students really got into and were passionate about it," he said. "I was even surprised that some candidates cried when they were not selected from the primaries."
He said the project was designed to help students eventually become informed voters.
"At the very beginning of the project, I explained how the more informed you are, the better your choice for an election is going to be," he said. "Sometimes we want to focus on the people running for a position, but more important is knowing where that person stands on issues that are important to you so that an intelligent decision can be made."
He said the Gateway students watched the presidential debates on television and "could tell you what the electoral college is."
Stanley said he did the election project four years ago with a different group of students.
"The most important thing I want students to get from it is that you are in control of what you know and do not know about a candidate," he said. "We talked about the idea of propaganda, even watching old political ads and speeches. A lot of times, we are fed what we know about candidates, but if we truly want to know what these people stand for, there are ways to go out and research this ourselves."
He said students did "lots of research on the issues"
"Hopefully, they now know how to access this information themselves so that they can make the best-informed decisions," he said.
"The most important thing I want students to get from it is that you are in control of what you know and do not know about a candidate."
- TODD STANLEY
Gateway Gifted Academy teacher