Most of them may not be old enough to vote in the general election Nov. 6, but they still hold strong opinions about the issues.
Students across the West Valley School District are learning about the local, state and federal candidates and issues before holding a mock election at the end of the month.
Juniors at West Valley, RiverCity Leadership Academy and Spokane Valley High School are studying the issues and candidates so they can write a voters guide for their election, understandable for even the youngest students. Teachers Ned Fadeley of RiverCity, Brandon Bouge of SVHS and Stacy Delcour of WVHS are coordinating the efforts of the junior class to write the voters guide.
“The only way democracy works is when citizens, young and old, exercise their right to vote and are active in the electoral process,” said Superintendent Gene Sementi in a letter that went home to parents.
Along with Sementi’s letter, parents received a voter registration for the mock election, plus Spokane County voter registration forms for any adults living in the house.
Students spent time listening to representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties from Spokane County. Two weeks ago, students listened to Amy Biviano, the Democrat running against Republican Rep. Matt Shea in the 4th Congressional District of the Washington State Legislature, and Dave Koch, the vice chairman of the Spokane County Democrats.
A week later, Matthew Pederson, chairman of the Spokane County Republicans spoke to students. At each event, speakers talked about their party’s platform and where they stand on the issues before answering questions.
“The differences are there, but it’s more of a different approach to the same issue,” Biviano told students, saying roads don’t care whether the funding to fix them comes from a Democrat or a Republican.
One student asked them where they see the economy going in the next five years. Another asked where they stood on legalizing marijuana. They were asked what they thought about the federal budget. There were many questions about the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
Students asked questions of Biviano and Koch about the issues, but when Pederson spoke a week later, the atmosphere of the sessions became more contentious.
When Pederson visited the students, he told them how he first became involved in local politics, becoming the mayor of Airway Heights by the age of 30.
“All politics are local,” he told them. He said there were cuts in funding to a local sports team he was working with and approached the city council to find a solution. Not only did they find a solution, residents there talked to him about running for the city council.
One of his duties as chairman of the Spokane County Republicans was to co-write the 2012 Washington State Republican Platform – which received 90 percent approval from his party. He read it to the students.
Students had many questions about Republican Party stances for Pederson. One student asked how the GOP can say that all men are created equal, but still believe marriage should be defined as one man and one woman. Students asked about the Republican Party’s stance on abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. One student asked about concealed weapons.
The questions the students asked were emotionally charged, so much so Fadeley asked students to start focusing on other topics such as the economy.
Students also asked Pederson about Obamacare and why the Republicans don’t agree with the act.
While there was a lot of discussion on social issues, there were specific questions they asked both sides. They asked about the state’s statute requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. They asked both parties about immigration.
West Valley students will write a voters guide appropriate to each grade level. Fadeley said high school students will vote on more issues and candidates than the grade school students. After the election, Fadeley hopes students will have an understanding of what democracy and voting are all about.
Sementi’s letter to parents emphasized the district’s commitment to teaching citizenship.
“It is our hope that participating in our mock registration and election will increase the likelihood that students will register to vote on their 18th birthday and begin participating in democracy as soon as possible,” Sementi said.