“We have been researching the candidates for the last three weeks,” said Sarah Smartt, Mayfield’s librarian. “The lessons have focused on fact checking versus believing everything in the media. We learned to cross reference our sources to ensure our decision for president is an educated one.”
Smartt said she did not try to sway the children’s opinion.
“I have not tried to change their mind one way or the other. Through time they have found out things they did not know or information they had not heard,” Smartt said.
Several students believed if one candidate was voted in then Cracker Jacks would disappear. Studies in the library focused on seeing through propaganda. Students watched campaign clips followed by discussion. Smartt asked them who was behind each clip and what the person might be trying to accomplish.
Opinions were formed before the lessons and then challenged. The challenges came in fact-based learning. One “election official,, fifth-grader Fernie Cooper, said her candidate choice changed.
“I kept researching about [a candidate] and learning new things about him, so I changed my mind,” Cooper said. “I am excited about voting one day.”
Fact-based lists were created the first week for both President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Information was gathered through websites Smartt knew to be unbiased. Students were asked to put aside preconceived notions while making the lists.
A double bubble graph was created to compare and contrast the lists during the second week. Personal information concerning each candidate’s race, marital status, where they went to college, and how many kids they had were ignored.
“I stressed to them, ‘I want you to think before every thought, what kind of president is this person going to be?’” Smartt said.
Essays were written during the third week. These persuasive papers were two to three paragraphs long. Students were assigned to tell Smartt what kind of president their candidate was going to be and why. Undecided students had to explain why they were at a standstill.
These lessons were designed to educate students on educated votes, as well as finding their own voice.
“It’s just as important, if not more so, for them to know who they are voting for and why. They should not choose a candidate just because their parents are, or someone else they know,” Smartt said. “I wanted them to base their votes on their own personal beliefs and convictions — backed with facts.”
Grades first through fifth participated in Tuesday’s mock vote. A total of 423 votes were cast. Each “voter” had a registration form with various personal information filled out.
“I explained to them adults need to register in order to vote. First grade only filled out their name and grade level. Second through fifth filled all of it out,” Smartt said. “It has all different kind of things like ethnicity, grade level and gender.”
Four fifth grade, “election officials” from the Safety Parol were sent in 30-minute increments. Each official manned a ballot booth. They gave instructions and stepped to the side while each voter chose their candidate. Officials placed each folded ballot in the specified ballot boxes.
Each voter received an “I voted” sticker.
“I told [the officials] they needed to be very careful not to sway whoever was voting. They need to answer questions about where to go next,” Smartt said. “I told them to keep their poll booths nice and neat and where to put the ballots. ... They just kind of took it and ran with it.”
The entire voting process was organized chaos.
“My safety crew has done a really great job of reaching out to the younger students and leading them through the process. Logistically, it has worked really well. We have all kind of worked together,” Smartt said.
Smartt encouraged students to discuss the election with their parents. She wanted them to ask their parents who they were voting for and why.
“I hope it generates a sense of responsibility in the community. Our kids are voting and we should, also,” Smartt said.