ACGC teaches students right, responsibility of voting
ATWATER -- When polls open today, children in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District may be leading their parents to the ballot boxes. Since school started in September, ACGC students through the sixth grade have been participating in the ...
ATWATER -- When polls open today, children in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District may be leading their parents to the ballot boxes.
Since school started in September, ACGC students through the sixth grade have been participating in the nationwide "Kids Voting" curriculum that teaches children about the process of voting. The lessons will culminate when students cast their own special ballots at the same precinct voting places where their parents will vote.
While the students' ballots won't count toward electing a president this year, teaching kids about the power and privilege of voting could go a long way in determining who is elected when these young voters turn 18.
Laura Hendricks, a second-grade teacher at ACGC North Elementary in Atwater, is coordinating the program locally. This will be the third election during which ACGC students have worked through the curriculum and voted.
ACGC is one of 37 school districts in Minnesota participating in the program.
The program began 14 years ago in Duluth, which recorded the highest voter turnout of any city in the country that year. "We'll take credit for that," said Lars Sandstrom, executive director of Kids Voting in Minnesota. "The students drag mom and dad to the polls," Sandstrom said.
The curriculum explains why voting is important and "that as a citizen in the United States, it's our right and our responsibility to use our voice," Hendricks said.
"We don't talk about who they should vote for. We only talk about how the process works," Hendricks said.
The curriculum teaches students that voting is a privilege, she said. "We're hoping that they'll get excited to vote and they'll bring their parents."
Sandstrom said adult turnout increases 3 to 5 percent in communities where the curriculum is taught.
The ACGC students have already filled out registration cards and have spent class time discussing the kind of person it takes to be a president or mayor.
Hendricks said her students listed "kind" and "to be able to listen to people" as characteristics of a good leader. The students also thought a president should make good laws, keep people and animals safe and "keep gas prices down."
"I'm surprised how serious they take it," Hendricks said. There was "no silliness" in the classroom.
Sandstrom said he hopes the program will "get the kids into a habit of being informed voters."
For the younger students, only the primary presidential candidates are profiled, but discussions on their positions are left to the parents, Hendricks said.
Students are talking in the halls and on the buses about who they will vote for today. It's not just the act of casting a vote that's important, she said, but the idea that "they have a voice in what's going on."
While their parents are in the voting booth, children will fill out their own special ballots, with the help of volunteers. The younger students will vote just on the presidential picks while older students will vote for a full slate of national and state candidates.
The kids' polls will close at 8 p.m. today just as the regular polls.
Results from the kids' ballots will be tallied and reported to the national organization. The local results will be used in the classroom Wednesday and be compared with the actual election results, Hendricks said.
Since the kids' votes are tallied before the national results are known, Sandstrom said he's fond of saying that the kids predict how the adults will vote.
For more information about the Kids Voting program, or to see the election results on Wednesday, please visit www.kidsvoting.com