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Election provides real-life lesson for Gulf Middle School students

Adelynn Berry, 12, left, and Danielle Balsamo, 13, pore over issues in a newspaper during civics class recently at Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey. The lesson focused on the analysis of issues in the presidential election, which was used to boost understanding and interest of seventh-graders.

Photos by MICHELE MILLER | Times

Adelynn Berry, 12, left, and Danielle Balsamo, 13, pore over issues in a newspaper during civics class recently at Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey. The lesson focused on the analysis of issues in the presidential election, which was used to boost understanding and interest of seventh-graders.

Florida may have been still up in the air, but kids in Ronda O'Dell's seventh-grade civics classroom knew who won when they arrived at school the morning after the general election. Some heard the results on the morning news. Others, like 12-year-old Patrick Mykel, stayed up late enough to see Ohio go his candidate's way. So, what do you think?" O'Dell asked her students as they settled in to see the results of their own mock election held via the Kid's Voting Tampa Bay website.

"This has been so exciting — my mom was jumping up and down," Patrick said as O'Dell scrolled down through a list of Florida schools to find out how Gulf Middle students had weighed in.

Obama 535, Romney 136.

"Apparently a lot of kids' parents are Democratic," quipped Hunter Faller, 12, pointing out that most students voted a straight versus a split ticket for the three races they had weighed in on, re-electing U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and opting for Jonathan Michael Snow as their congressman rather than Republican Gus Bilirakis, who actually won re-election in the local race.

Some might call it sour grapes on the part of a young and vocal Romney supporter, but others might see it as an astute observation of a future voter, one based on some good thought and the recent lessons Hunter and his classmates have been delving into on the effects of bias and propaganda on the electorate.

It's all part of a newly implemented seventh-grade curriculum on civics in accordance with the Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act, said Gulf Middle social studies teacher and department chairwoman, Katherine Michaelides. "We've been covering everything from party organizations to the different candidates to voting."

As always, textbooks play a part in educating students on government and the democratic process, but students of O'Dell and Michaelides have also been tapping other resources — watching the various debates, conducting research on educational websites such as icivics.org and following current events on television and in the print news.

They also had the opportunity to peruse the local ballot that adults voted on and researched party views on such issues as the economy, the environment, military spending, health care and Social Security. In the process they added new words and terms to their vocabulary: precinct, electorate, soft money, party committees, state committees and national committees and more.

And while the campaign leading up to 2012 election has been described as a polarizing one, the "neck and neck" feel that played out in real time ended up being a boon for those teaching civics to a generation that won't be able to cast a presidential vote until 2020.

"Some of these kids, they really get into it," said Michaelides, who the day after the election gave an impromptu review on the voting process to students who were perplexed to see the red/blue graphics on the map of the United States that was displayed on the classroom pull-down screen.

Like many adults, students wondered how President Obama could win a second term with that giant swath of Republican red covering all those states and why the election had been called when the results had yet to be fully tallied in their "too close to call" state of Florida.

Nothing like being able to give lesson on the electoral college with a real-life example.

As with the general electorate, some students have been more engaged than others, but O'Dell and Michaeledis said they have been boosted by the spirited response of those who embraced the ideal of becoming educated voters, active citizens and perhaps, future leaders.

Among them were students such as Zachary Santangelo, who was disappointed with the outcome of the presidential election and worried about the added debt incurred over the past four years. "Obama's motto was change — really what has changed and what happens now?" he asked his peers during a discussion in Michaelides classroom. And Jaycee Redmond, 12, who responded with the thought that four years wasn't nearly enough time to clean up the mess she said had been left by the Bush administration.

"Just think of it like this," she said. "It can take you 10 minutes to destroy your room, but it can take you hours to clean it up." And Audrey Viliahong, 12, who said she didn't feel all that inspired about what either candidate had to offer, saying, "I don't like that we only get two choices." And finally, Ariana Ruisi, 12, who was hoping that the election's outcome would spur compromise and collaboration between the nation's newly elected leaders.

"I just want a leader who will do the best for our country, not just their party," she said. "I want leaders who will work together."

>>To learn more

See how they voted

See how Pasco County students voted in the 2012 mock election at kidsvotingtampabay.com/.

Election provides real-life lesson for Gulf Middle School students 11/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 4:57pm]
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