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Engaging exercise on electoral college
Student council election follows national format at Piney Grove
State WEB 1
Students enter the gym at Piney Grove Middle School during a mock presidential convention. - photo by Jennifer Sami

As their names were called, Connor Buehler and Alex Forbes drew cheers from a crowd of loyal supporters, including Smurfs, zombies, hipsters, superheroes and athletes.

It was those characters and others who helped the two clinch the election Thursday for president and vice president of Piney Grove Middle School.

As part of a lesson on the U.S. presidential election process, the school’s sixth- and seventh-graders gathered in the gym to watch a mock presidential convention as eighth-graders represented 18 “states,” or homeroom classes. The classes ranged from State of Smurfs to State of Camouflage.

“We spent two weeks planning it and it was so much fun,” said Isabelle Englund, a member of the State of North Pole.

Clad in reindeer antlers, members of her group paraded around the gym pulling a student dressed as Santa Claus on a chair with wheels.

Like Englund’s group, each state got the chance to show off costumes to their younger classmates before casting their state’s electoral college vote.

And each of the 18 eighth-grade states had one electoral college vote. Three pairs of representatives from the sixth grade and three from the seventh grade each received a vote for a total of six.

Seventh-grader Maggie McGrath got to be one of her grade’s six delegates.

“It kind of felt special to be able to be part of it,” she said. “I liked learning about the electoral college and stuff because I didn’t know about it. I thought the votes went directly to being counted for the president.

“I’m really excited for next year because I can’t wait to dress up for the states. I thought it was really cool … and it makes me think about it a lot more [nationally].”

In the end, 14 of the school’s electoral college votes went to Buehler and Forbes, who offered a simple “thank you” to supporters.

Buehler, the president, added: “I’d like to thank every one of you that helped us campaigning and I’d like to thank teachers for putting up with the flyers and posters.”

But the teachers appeared to have just as much fun as the students.

“It was exciting because they actually took an active engagement within the process,” said seventh-grade teacher Keith Kulikowski. “… You can see where the students are much better prepared and much more thoughtful in reaction in terms of the whole government process.”

Just as the national conventions had guest speakers, District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, addressed the convention. He talked to the students about the electoral process and the importance of being involved in government and their future.

“Education is the most important thing you can do in your lifetime, especially in this day and time,” he said. “Today it’s more important than ever that you get a good education … you are the future of what we’re going to look for in leaders in our nation, in our state and in our counties.”

Englund said she had learned before Thursday’s convention about the U.S. presidential race and how the process works.

“I was really confused about the whole electoral vote, but once we did this … I understand the whole voting thing a lot better,” she said. “I think the process is really cool.”

The school held a similar convention two years ago. Though they skipped a year, the event will be held annually, much to the delight of McGrath.

“Last year it was like, they just announced the president and it wasn’t as memorable or special,” McGrath said. “I don’t even remember how it went or what happened last year and now I’ll remember this.”

Second-place candidates, Mary Zhou and Madi Smith, who earned five of the 24 electoral votes, were automatically assigned the roles of secretary and treasurer, respectively.

For Lindsey Bradford, head of the State of Superheroes, picking the winning ticket made it all that much more rewarding.

“We got the winners … it was really cool and it was a really good, memorable experience,” she said. “It was exciting for me to speak in front of the whole school saying the vote for our student council president, and it was really fun dressing up to be a superhero.”

As he watched the convention, Assistant Principal Todd McClelland said he was proud to see the spirit involved.

“It’s more engaging than someone standing up and talking about it, or us announcing it over the PA system,” he said. “The electoral college, it’s a very vague process … for a lot of adults. So we’re trying to teach the kids.

“We also want them to have fun, because we’re going to elect our student council. They voted for their student council presidents today and it’s a big deal for these student council presidents because it’s a leadership position and it’s just kind of a special way to unwrap that big package.”