Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2004

A lesson in democracy

Tonganoxie Elementary teacher encourages third-graders to ‘feel’ election

November 3, 2004

Ian Finkbiner entered the blue and white star-covered voting booth and emerged, smiling.

He had just done his part.

The Tonganoxie third-grader voted. And, he says, he plans to vote again -- when he grows up.

"I learned to vote when I'm 18," Ian said. "I want to vote."

Ian and his classmates voted Tuesday in their own presidential election, and according to the final tally, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won the election, sweeping up 10 votes to President George Bush's eight.

Ian's classmate, Alison Bryant, who went with her father to vote Tuesday morning and waited in line with him for 30 minutes, said the wait was worth it.

That's because she's learned in school this semester how important elections are.

"We studied Congress and the House of Representatives and senators and all that stuff," Alison said, adding that she plans to vote when she grows up.

That's what her teacher, Karen Stockman, had hoped for when she began, weeks ago, teaching her students about the Nov. 2 election.

"I want them to feel it. I think that if you can connect with the learning, it's valuable long-term learning," Stockman said. "Instead of just taking something from books, I really truly want the students to experience it and make it valid and real."

Stockman, a former TES student herself who is a first-year teacher in Tonganoxie, started the election lessons with a read-aloud fiction story abut a boy who ran for president. In the story, the boy seeks a constitutional amendment to do away with the age restriction for president. The story covers an election from beginning to end.

"I encouraged my students to watch a few minutes of the debates and we talked about what a debate was," Stockman said.

She also taught her students about the Electoral College, the different branches of government and included the students in role-playing.

The students made "Go Vote" signs, which they and other third-grade classes, carried Tuesday down Fourth Street, loudly reminding everyone to go to the polls.

The class stuck to facts, not opinions, Stockman said, learning about the candidates' personal history -- where they were from and how many children they have.

And they clipped newspaper articles about both candidates, discussing how they're represented in the media.

Stockman encouraged her students to go to vote with their parents, and gave them the opportunity to complete a questionnaire about the experience for extra credit.

This all played into Stockman's idea -- to get the children to be involved in the election process. This meant they registered to vote by the required deadline, voted and counted ballots in all seriousness.

"I really believe that if they feel like they are a part of it, they're going to learn and be enthusiastic about it and understand," Stockman said.

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