By Susan Riddell
In 2008,Toni Perry and fellow social studies teachers at T.K. Stone Middle School (Elizabethtown Independent) had their students create in-depth scrapbooks on the presidential election.
What they didn’t realize at the time was the lasting impact compiling those scrapbook would have on many of their students, who will be casting their first votes in this year’s presidential election.
“I’ve had students who completed the scrapbook in 2008, and they still have it,” Perry said. “Feedback from them and their parents indicated they were glad they went through the process of completing the election scrapbook, and it helped plant the seeds of being a more informed citizen, the value of doing their civic duty of voting and being a responsible citizen.”
The scrapbooks were such a success the social studies teachers decided to repeat the unit again this year.
The unit guides students on creating seven-part scrapbooks that are graded on a scoring rubric including candidates, presidential duties, commentary, political cartoons, political parties, Electoral College and election outcome.
Both Perry and Mather said the unit is directly lined up with the Program of Studies for social studies 4.1 SS-08-1.2.1 and SS-08-1.3.2 and Common Core English and language arts reading and writing standards for literacy in history/social studies.
Students compile information for their scrapbooks in a variety of ways, they added, and they host a mock election for the entire school complete with a voting booth from the county clerk’s office.
“We explored all parts of the process,” Perry said.
Students have registered to vote, and social studies students man the voting booth. They chart voting trends for each candidate, Mather said. On election night, the school will host an election party that offers breakout sessions for the students and a viewing of the live election results.
Students also can vote online during the school’s mock election thanks to a surveying software program, Perry added.
“This lesson gives students a vital opportunity to apply their knowledge of the electoral process and meld their political viewpoints into real world experience,” Perry said.
The election project takes months of planning and help from the community, parents, teachers and other stakeholders, said T.K. Stone Middle Principal Beth Mather.
“For the 2012 election unit, we have four teachers in a collaborative setting to complete the unit,” she said. “We started gathering ideas at the end of last school year and worked over the summer to plan. In the beginning of this school year, we planned for community leaders to come in as guest speakers.”
County Clerk Kenny Tabb was one of those speakers, as were young republicans from the University of Louisville political science department and democratic political science students from Elizabethtown Community College.
Kentucky Department of Education Social Studies Consultant Charles Hall said the electoral process can be taught in any grade.
“While the scrapbook project at T.K. Stone Middle School emphasizes civic duty, it also creates an important dialogue that students need as they prepare for life outside of school,” Hall said. “Obviously those conversations are taking place in high schools as some students already are of voting age, but modified versions can be started in elementary schools, too.”
Perry likes that her students are having these discussions at home, and she can expand on those conversations later in her classroom.
“This makes teachers feel great because they are inadvertently aligning their conversations with the Kentucky Common Core Standards,” Perry said. “Those students build upon their prior knowledge and are able to conduct meaningful dialogue into my classroom.”
Perry’s students have a good understanding that classmates will have varying opinions on the candidates and the election process.
“The students are understanding how to handle a classmate whose views are different from their own,” she said. “Our government is set up in a way where the people’s voices are heard; yet with those voices comes a sense of responsibility. In my classroom, we also discuss how having the right to elect your officials can help drive your belief systems.
“Their ideals, principles and prior instruction help establish what I teach,” Perry added. “(They) state how they feel with prejudice or bias. I instill in the students that everyone has a constitutional right to elect a president. They may not agree with a classmate’s choice, but they will respect the process.”