October 4, 2012

Government Of The People, By The People, For The People

Big decision in the voting booth
This past summer, Friends’ was proud to provide some sabbatical funding so that 4th grade teacher Liz Richards could take a trip to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.  Little did we know that this trip would have such a dramatic return on our investment and such a rapid effect on our lives here at school.

While visiting the seat of our nation’s government, including the Lincoln Memorial where the line from the Gettysburg address (quoted in the title of this column) is inscribed, and exploring other important sites such as the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Liz was inspired to bring history and government to life at Friends’.

Her strong personal interest in government, combined with the significance of the current election season, provided the perfect opportunity for Liz to do what all great teachers do:  make learning real, relevant, and exciting. With the support of her colleagues in the elementary school, Liz re-designed the structure for our Student Council, integrated it with the 4th and 5th grade social studies curriculum on elections and government, and got the whole school chattering with anticipation and intrigue.

Liz created a new Student Council with an executive branch (President and Veep), legislative branch (split into two chambers – Senate and House), and judicial branch (the teachers). Candidates were chosen by means of in-class primaries.  4th and 5th grade pairs ran for office. Posters adorned our hallways. T-shirts and buttons adorned our students.  Each set of candidates was backed by a political party, complete with speechwriters and policy wonks. Campaign rules were established. Special interest groups had their spending curtailed.  Only positive advertising was allowed.

Last Friday our entire elementary school, and many parents, gathered in the Great Room to hear stump speeches.  They were received with great respect and thunderous applause. Presidential and vice-presidential speeches contained these choice lines:

“I’m running for president because I’m a strong leader and even though Friends’ is a great place, I’d like us to work together to make it even better. I’d like to continue the spirit of friendship, encourage everyone to have a “voice,” and help them share ideas. Making this a safe community, I’d like to continue a great school.” – Charlotte

Kindergartners lining up at their local polling place
“I love Friends because of its unique traditions and how it runs. But the most important thing to me about Friends is its people. I have made so many great friends and the teachers are so friendly and forgiving. I hope to bring a larger voice to the student body and make this school even better.  I believe in Friends’ School.” - Will

“When I was writing this speech I was trying to think of things to change about the school and couldn’t think of anything. I like Friends’ School the way it is! I think the school is perfect. It has great teachers and great friends. We have a lot of fun! We learn a lot! We even have Ann!” - Jack

Our students created our own Friends’ School ballot boxes. Voting was conducted this week – on the first Tuesday in October. One Kindergartner told her teacher that she was scared to vote because she didn’t know how to do it.  She was gently encouraged to participate and soon discovered that the process is not so bad after all.  All day on Tuesday, the air was thick with suspense as votes were cast and counted.

At the end of the day, the elementary school body returned to the Great Room.  Director of Student Activities, Kathy Sherwood, announced all of the students’ names who were to represent their peers in the legislative branch of Student Council. 

It was then time to announce the winners of the presidential election.  All of the candidates who had run – three pairs of girls and three pairs of boys – stood and received a standing ovation from the assembled masses.  All had prepared acceptance speeches – just in case. When 5th graders Will and Tucker were announced as the winners, they shook hands with all of their opponents and gave gracious, humble, and mature speeches.

4th grade teacher Liz Richards,
who inspired and designed our
school election
The teachers and I are looking forward to working with Will and Tucker and a new tradition as they report to our faculty meetings once a month.  While these two students received the most votes at the ballot box, they were not the only winners here.

The true winners are all of our elementary students.  They have had an opportunity to get a jumpstart on one of their most important responsibilities as citizens: voting.  At a time when fewer and fewer women are running for office, as many of our girls as boys experienced campaigning and having their voices heard. We all got a taste of what it’s like to hear positive ideas set forth by candidates, instead of the negative messages with which we are currently bombarded.  And it was all done in a supportive educational atmosphere ripe with respect and courtesy. 

A huge thank you to Liz and Kathy, and to our Teacher Candidates in 4th and 5th grade, Mary Pearsall and Natalie Burgard, who all worked so hard, often in their own time, to make this process such a success.

This nation shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” - President Abraham Lincoln

I’ll vote for that every time.


jessie vanden hogen said...

so amazing...so important!

Steph Bruno said...

Wow! What an experience for the kids! Maybe we will be seeing one of them in a Presidential debate one day!