SCSD Middle School Students Practice Civic Engagement with School Elections
Published on 11/8/22
Clary Middle School Brighton Academy
In New York State, you must be 18 to vote in an election; but SCSD middle school students had unique opportunities to get a head start on this important civic rite-of-passage… with student elections in their school buildings!
This election season, Clary Middle School students were invited to participate in their school’s first gubernatorial election. Leading up to election day, students from every grade level learned about the candidates for Governor of New York State in their class lessons. Then, they had the opportunity to vote. They checked in, verified their identity using their school ID cards, and then cast their vote at polling stations in their school gym.
“As a team, we wanted to provide students with the experience of what the voting process genuinely feels like, and not just learn about it in the classroom,” Social Studies teacher Martin Pasternak said. “We need our youth to know not only how to vote, but also how to research candidates and develop an opinion on which candidate(s) would best represent them and their needs. We really want to show students the importance of voting and how they will be able to use their vote to influence our government. We hope this leads to positive and constructive habits for our students and allows them to feel that their voices matter and are heard as they get older and are able to participate in our government’s elections.”
In class, students took part in lessons that introduced them to the importance of voting and the overall voting process. Students learned about each candidate and their voting records. To avoid bias, they avoided campaign messaging, instead focusing on actual candidate experience and background. With their classmates and teachers, students came up with examples of things each candidate has done and how these things would impact them personally in a positive or negative way – allowing them to make an educated and unbiased decision when they entered the voting booth.
“I took notes on what each candidate has done and has said they will do, and then I went home and talked with my family about it,” seventh grade student Cece McCook-Roa explained. “I believe that the person I’m voting for will represent me the best. I believe the things this person will do will ultimately benefit me and will do the most good. Voting is so important because it shows that your opinion matters. I can’t wait to vote when I turn 18, because it’s a small thing I can do that can lead to big change, and that’s important to me.”
“Voting impacts our entire community,” eighth grade student Mackenzie Fragola said. “For example, gun control is important to me because it can make our community safer. I’m voting based on how I think the candidate will create change. I’m going to go with my mom when she votes on Election Day, and I look forward to voting when I turn 18 because I want to contribute to help my community, and every vote matters!”
“The things that both candidates would do if elected will impact us,” eighth grade student Chrisette Jones said. “I support candidates who are going to invest in education, because I believe that career readiness is important. Not everyone is cut out for college, but it’s really important that we provide money for programs that help people learn so they can get a job. I believe that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain… because you didn’t do anything positive to contribute!”
At Brighton Academy, students also had a chance to show their civic engagement – by participating in an election to vote for Student Council representatives! Student Council candidates campaigned, gave speeches, and were elected by their school community to be a voice for students. Students elected a Student Council President, Vice President, and three Student Cabinet members to represent each grade level in the school.
Vice President Izell Cannon, an 8th grade student, chose to run for Student Council because he saw an opportunity to make a positive impact in his school.
“I wanted to run because I felt like I’m a good leader who can help students and make the school a better place,” he said. “When I was campaigning, I told students that when I finish my work early, I’ll spend my last period going to different math classes to help students with math work they might need help with. I also said I’d like to help open a school store, for kids who don’t like the school lunches or who want an extra snack. Academically, I’d really like to see Brighton Academy offer a study hall to students of all grade levels, so students can have extra time during the school day to get help with work that they might need help with.”
Each Tuesday and Friday, Izell and his fellow Council members meet as a group to talk about their ideas, plans, and challenges. They recently planned a Harvest Festival fundraiser as well as an incentive dance. Several school staff are present at their meetings to help facilitate discussions or sign off on ideas, but meetings are mostly student-led. Izell said the meetings have helped him see the value of his own voice – both now and in the future.
“It’s important for students to have a voice,” Izell said. “All schools should have a Student Council. This experience has shown me that if I want to run for something when I get older, I know the process and what I have to do to get there. I have an interest in running for Mayor one day, and this experience lets me practice using my voice and showing my leadership.”
Brighton Academy 8th grade Social Studies teacher Alicia Whitmore said having a Student Council has also helped students identify who to go to when they have an idea to help improve the school.
“Through having student representatives, our students have learned about the importance of electing people who will share their vision for the school year and for the things they’d like to see in the school,” she explained. “Voting isn’t just a popularity contest – it’s about your values and who will represent those values. It definitely means a lot to our students that their peers are making decisions and having input. If a student has an idea or wants to suggest what music they want played at a dance, they know which Student Council representatives to see about that. They know who to go to, they know they have a voice, and they see that their peers have the power to help amplify that voice. Our ultimate goal is to help students to understand that they have civic duties and to help them identify how they can fulfil them.”
Last year, Brighton Academy students learned about redlining and had the opportunity to write letters to the Deputy Mayor of Syracuse to share their opinions about it. Students have also been encouraged to learn more about the New York State Civic Readiness Pathway, a diploma program that encourages students to engage in civic projects to help better their community.
We’re proud of all of our #SCSDCivicReady students!