It’s February, during an election year, and the nation is completely caught up with who will become our next Chief Executive and Commander in Chief. While debates among presidential candidates rage, the run-up to and the outcome of state primaries and caucuses dominate the media, and the citizenry takes stock of each candidate’s political platform, elementary students at The New Century School have been involved in some pretty presidential activities of their own.
Their school year began, in fact, with learning all about the U.S. political process, including replicating that process to campaign for Class President, a TNCS first! They have also studied how bills become laws, taken a trip to the White House, and researched and profiled a U.S. president of their choice. With Presidents’ Day just behind us, it’s an opportune time to take a closer look at what they’ve been doing.
In both elementary divisions (2nd/3rd and 4th/5th), each student presented a campaign speech, which were narrowed down to what the class voted on as the top five. To do so, explains Language Arts/Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch, each student asked each campaigner five “quality questions,” to rate the potential candidate’s platform (a process they would repeat later in the year when Baltimore City mayoral candidate Elizabeth Embry came to TNCS to talk about campaigning for political office. TNCS students asked some very hard-hitting questions, being political experts themselves by that point.) From there, the final two—president and vice-president— were elected into office after presenting longer, more in-depth speeches and another round of voting. “What can you ask of candidates to determine whether you have shared opinions and values,” Ms. Stasch asked the class. “Don’t just vote for your friends; vote for someone who will bring good to your class—who really listens to you and helps address your needs.” In the 2nd-/3rd-grade group, President J.B. and Vice-President P.H. made the cut; in the 4th-/5th-grade group, G.C. became President with C.G. and E.B. tying for Vice-President.
The Class President exercise will be a year-long endeavor. The individual platform tenets that each candidate brought into office have become actual initiatives that the class, with Ms. Stasch’s help, has enacted. These include everything from stocking the class shelves with certain hand-picked titles to community outreach in the form of an upcoming bake sale. “Each [campaign platform] was completely self-led,” said Ms. Stasch, ” and I’m going to do my best to help make them happen. The students have taken this very seriously, and some great things are coming out of it.”
The trip to the White House was the highlight of the fall. “They were all really hoping to visit the Oval Office and see President Obama, but that didn’t happen,” said Ms. Stasch. Nevertheless, TNCS elementary students enjoyed this very special field trip immensely. At that time, she explained, the students were actively conducting researching for their presidential profiles, so they were excited to see the official portrait of their particular president. They had also been studying various White House “nooks and crannies” in class and had a ball applying their knowledge to the real thing. “I was glad to see them having so much fun as they made those connections,” said Ms. Stasch.
For actual Presidents’ Day, they recapped what they learned during their unit on presidents. They did some reflective writing in the president they had profiled earlier in the year. Their presidential subjects included the historical heavy weights—George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—to those who have held office in their (or, more likely, their parents’ or grandparents’ lifetimes)—Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, both George Bushes, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight D. Eisenhower—to even some of the more obscure names among the pantheon of 43 (note that although we have had 44 presidencies, Glover Cleveland held two nonconsecutive seats)—such as Benjamin Harrison, Chester Arthur, and William Howard Taft. Students chose their own subjects, based on no set criteria, except that duplicating subjects was vetoed.
Ms. Stasch’s multi-semester unit merged historical and present-day politics, in a particularly relevant year, and even provided multiple opportunities for the students to actively apply their knowledge to activities happening both within and outside the classroom—and the great timing was no accident. “I wanted the students to gain insight into what their parents would be experiencing this year, to see and participate in the voting process, and to understand the role of the president including helping communities,” she said. She’ll no doubt be elected to a second term for the 2016–2017 school year by a landslide!