WATERLOO — Although the students at St. Mary’s School in Waterloo aren’t old enough to vote, they recently proved they are knowledgeable and concerned about politics, electing George W. Bush president after a mock debate.
The entire school participated in the debate on Nov. 1, the day before United States citizens elected a new president. Students in kindergarten through second grade welcomed parents and fellow students to the school gymnasium, where the debate was held, with a song about the importance of voting.
“V-O-T-E, vote! V-O-T-E, vote! Get off your easy chair, V-O-T-E vote!” they sang.
Before and after the actual debate, several students in Tricia LoPiccolo’s third- and fourth-grade class read essays describing what they would do if they were elected president. The “candidates” discussed everything from health care, taxes and the environment to war, abortion and freedom.
“We are a free people and I want to keep it that way. I want to try to help our country out of war and see that everyone has a good education and a good job,” third-grader Adam Palmer said.
“The first thing I would do as president would be to shorten school hours,” giving children more time to spend with their family and friends, third-grader Gentry Brooks said. Gentry explained his plan to legalize prayer in all schools, both public and private, before moving on to another topic he felt strongly about.
“I feel that violence in this country is out of control. I am fed up with innocent people getting hurt,” Gentry said emphatically, explaining that he felt violent criminals should always be forced to serve their entire sentences.
During the debate, six pairs of third- and fourth-grade students took turns playing the roles of Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry. They answered questions from students in the audience and shared their differing positions on jobs and the economy, health care, taxes, the environment, school security and even violent video games.
LoPiccolo said she had all the third- and fourth-grade students do a research project on the campaign platforms of the presidential candidates. Students based their answers to the debate questions on the research they did, she said.
Fourth-grader Lauren Cook, speaking as Bush, said that she would tax rich people and make health care free for the nation’s poor “because I think everyone should have health.”
Third-grader Lauren Vasquez, speaking as Kerry, said she would help the economy by creating job positions that people would enjoy and reclaiming abandoned buildings to house these new jobs.
Lauren said preparing for the debate was fun, and she especially enjoyed watching her fellow students read their essays and debate. While working on the project, she learned that a new president is elected every four years and that Kerry had served in Vietnam, she said.
Classmate Meghan Gentner also took on the role of Kerry for part of the debate, and said she especially enjoyed being at the microphone and in front of a crowd. Gentry agreed that being in front of a large group made the debate more fun.
“We got to read it in front of a million people,” he explained enthusiastically.
After the last essay was read, the younger students got up once more to close the debate with song.
“V-O-T-E, vote! V-O-T-E, vote! Every citizen should care, V-O-T-E, vote!” they sang.
Principal Fred Smith applauded the students for their hard work and enthusiasm and encouraged them to take voting and the democratic process seriously.
“This is a guaranteed right as an American citizen. This is part of the process to make an informed decision,” he told the students.
On Election Day, the morning after the mock debate, the students held their own presidential election. When the results of the election were announced at lunch that day, the students learned that Bush had won their election with 72 of 98 total votes. Almost 24 hours later, they learned that Bush had won the national election as well.