SELMA – When it comes to deciding who’ll be the next president of the United States, Eric White Elementary students are choosing from among their own.
During an Oct. 5 mock election exercise, four students signed up to be candidates for office. But it wasn’t just as president of their class or even mayor of the city. They were aiming higher and the teachers behind the effort say they hope this learning experience spurs them on to become leaders all their lives.
“The best way for students to learn is to experience something,” said third-grade teacher Megan Rios. She held a mock election in just her classroom the previous year, but other teachers thought it would be a good learning activity for the entire school. “It was my small idea last year and I shared it with my team. With a lot of help from them and our teacher librarian, Jeremy Winter, it’s blown up and now it’s a big idea.”
After studying a unit and learning new vocabulary about elections, four students were chosen through class voting to be the final candidates. The students were Lizeth Villegas, Manuel Sanchez, III, Zandra Aguilar and Jaqueline Aguilera Nava.
During a special election assembly, they gave speeches and were encouraged by local City Councilwoman Yvette Montijo to stay positive during and after the election.
Montijo used the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to help the students think about how to cast their vote. In the story, Goldilocks comes across the bowls of porridge, chairs and a bed that are either too much of one thing, not enough of another or just right.
“When you’re taking a look at your candidates, you have to be like Goldilocks and find the one that’s just right. To find the one that’s just right, you have to think about what’s important to you.”
She also pointed out a reality of the elections – only one of the candidates will be the winner.
“I hope the person who wins is a good sport, turns to your opponents, shakes their hand and says, ‘good job.’ Because after the voting is over, you’re still Eric White Tigers and you’re still friends and you’re still classmates. So maintaining your positivity, being good citizens and showing good sportsmanship is what it’s all about.”
With their cafeteria decorated in red, white and blue banners, stars and streamers and student-sized voting booths set up, the candidates waited anxiously on the side of the stage before they stepped up to the podium.
Third-grader Zandra Aguilar was one of the candidates. She said before they studied about the election process, she had no idea about what was involved in voting. But now with her speech in hand and campaign poster proudly on display, she said she decided to run for office because she has a heart for the homeless and “wants to make our country safer.”
When it comes to the adults who will be voting in the General Elections in November, Zandra had the same advice in mind she’d use to get through the speech.
“Just pay attention to yourself and not the other people. If I win, I’ll have to do the things I said on my paper.”
Lizeth Villegas was another candidate. She decided to seek office to make things better, she said.
“It would be good if the school gave better lunches and if we could have a candy class where you get to eat a lot of candy.”
Third-grader Teresa Martinez was in the audience and after listening to all the speeches said she had her mind made up.
“I’m going to vote for Zandra because she gave her speech to our classroom. She said she’d be positive, loyal and she won’t judge people even if they don’t vote for her. And she won’t force the people to vote for her.”
In their speeches, the students touted their experience such as the offices they’ve held in their classes, their plans to help the poor and help citizens keep their jobs. They touched on strengthening the military, lowering crime, caring for the environment, providing health care for all and even improving education.
Their Principal Michelle Salcido said these may all be lofty goals, but taking part in this exercise may spark their interest in tackling all these needs at the local level and beyond as they get older.
“The real lesson for the students is to realize they do have a say in matters through their votes. Their voice really does count and I hope this experience will carry with them so when they turn 18 they can vote. We never know where this might take them some day.”
While the results of the vote wouldn’t be tallied and announced until later, Rios said it wasn’t the actual winning that mattered as much as the real-life experience of the campaigning and voting process.
“They had to really familiarize themselves with the process, understand what it takes to be a part of a Democracy and learn the vocabulary from the unit. Now, they should have something to relate future knowledge to.”
The plan was to have the winner from last year’s election announce whoever won over the intercom the next week.
“That will be it. They don’t become the actual president at least until they’re 35,” Rios said. So while they may be too young to vote, much less run for the highest office in the nation just yet, the exercise may spark some of the students to seek office in their adult life.
“Maybe someday,” Rios said. “That would be really neat to see.”