Students Vote in the 2016 Presidential Election
Come Election Day thousands of Saint Paul Public Schools students will be engaged in the historic event, whether by working at polling locations as election judges or participating in mock votes in their classrooms.
As with each election that happens, local or national, educators across the district use the opportunity to teach about topics such as voting, history, politics and policy.
“The learning actually comes before the voting day,” said Rebecca Biel, a social studies supervisor for the district. “Students are learning about voting and elections at the younger grades and about political parties at the upper grades.”
This year, because the presidential election cycle has been more divisive and politically charged than in past years, “it was especially important to make sure classrooms provided a safe place for students to be able to discuss what they hear at home and in the media,” she added.
The district’s social studies department partnered with Minnesota Civic Youth to provide resources for educators not only to teach about the election and voting, but how to have classroom discussions. The resources provide post-election reflection activities so that the discussions can continue after Election Day on Nov. 8.
On Tuesday, students will cast their votes for the president, vice president, representatives, judges and constitutional amendments. They will have ballots that go into a ballot box and will get “I Voted” stickers - all provided by Minnesota Civic Youth.
More than 23,000 students at 44 schools throughout SPPS will participate in the Kids Vote election activities. The majority of students voting are at elementary schools. There are 35 high schoolers who are serving as election judges.
Biel said it’s good for students to participate in the process because it provides an experience that is the culminating event after they’ve learned about elections and voting.
“It is good for the younger students to learn at an early age what voting is and to be able to express their opinion and have their voice heard,” she added. “As students get older, it helps them to understand what to expect when they themselves will vote. It demystifies the process.”
For Capitol Hill teacher Mark Westpfahl, a co-chair of the Social Studies Department, giving the students in his classroom a front row seat to the political process has long been the norm. This year is no different.
Beginning Monday, a host of lawmakers, candidates and journalists began visiting Mr. Westpfahl’s classes to talk to students and share their experiences – all to help the youth understand how elections work, the differences between local and national races, and why the process matters.
And the students in his classes will take the Kids Vote process one step further, he said.
“We will be doing exit polling with the middle school students to figure out how much time outside of the school day they spent researching their candidate of choice, their main opponent(s), what they think the Minnesota voter turnout will be, who they think will win Minnesota (may not be same as they voted) and by what percentages,” he added.
“It is really important to bring our classroom to a larger audience and to have that larger audience interact with our students. Extending education beyond the normal boundaries of the walls that hold up our classroom is important for me,” Westpfahl said.
The idea of inviting guests to his classroom to interact has long been a goal for Westpfahl, who has been an educator in SPPS for eight years after a career in graphic design. As it turned out, timing was everything to make it happen.
“My first year at Capitol Hill was the first year the state introduced the course Minnesota Studies. I thought bringing in guests would be a very cool way to end the year,” he said. “It was different from book and ‘normal activity’ learning. This year will be the fourth annual #MNstudies Guest Week.”
When he started planning for the November election last spring, he said he knew he wanted to invite more voices into his classroom so students would learn more “about process of the election, rather than the personalities on the top of the ticket.”
Elections 2016 Guest Week:
- Representative Dan Schoen
- Representative Rena Moran
- Emily Jenson, Deputy Director of Candidate Services at the Minnesota DFL
- Ken Martin, Chair of the Minnesota DFL
- Cyrstal City Council Member Jeff Kolb
- MinnPost political blogger Michael Brodakorb
- Greg Ryan, Republican Candidate for the United States Congress
- Representative Roz Peterson
- 5 SPPS School Board candidates
- John Croman
- Tom Hauser
- GOP Chairman Keith Downey
- Rachel Stassenberger from the Pioneer Press