St. Joseph students incorporate election in curriculum

The entire student body of St. Joseph Catholic School in Pine Bluff participated in a mock election Tuesday that was preceded in the days before by classroom discussions throughout all grades and subjects centered around the American election process and the issues facing the United States in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Civics teacher Vera Washington coordinated the effort and provided her fellow instructors with a copy of Debate, Decide, 2012: The U.S. Presidential Election Project, a book published by the International Debate Education Association.

“We first taught them the voter registration process and assigned them a precinct to cast their vote,” Washington said. “Each classroom had a computer that was used for the students to vote. The information was tabulated and each class discussed the results on Wednesday. Schools from throughout the United States particiapted so we were able to look at data from just our school as well as from around Arkansas and across the country.”

Ballot options included President and Vice President, U.S. House of Representatives, and choosing the top two of six national issues — including the economy, education, energy, the environment, health care and the national debt.

“Our students chose the economy first and education second,” she said.

Washington said that the students at St. Joseph re-elected President Barack Obama and that the national mock election was also won by Obama.

The National Student Mock Election was sponsored by the Pearson Foundation, according to material provided by Washington.

St. Joseph principal Alexandra Pritchett was glad that her students had the opportunity to learn about the election process in an innovative way.

“It was a great civics lesson,” Pritchett said. “The students took pride in what they were doing. The teachers came up with ways to tie the election in with the subjects that they teach. We have a statistics class where the students looked at how the various national opinion polls are tabulated. They analyzed national as well as statewide trends. Our science classes were able to talk about some of the topics that came up during the election including climate change.”

Senior Zoheb Yunus said that participating in the mock election and classroom discussions made him more aware of the issues.

“I thought it was good because it allowed us to get our opinions out there,” Yunus said. “I think it gave us a chance to look more into the election. It’s good to get into politics before you have to because if you keep up with the issues now you will know what is happening when you can vote. It definitely got me to look at more than I would have before.”

Yunus said that students in his journalism class were required to watch the three presidential debates and the single vice presidential debate as well as the election night results and then write articles based on the notes that they took.

Educator Clifford Heyer even found a way to fashion his English Literature classes into discussions of the American election process.

“My 12th graders are reading Shakespeare’s The Tempest and we discussed the monarchy in England at that time and how power was centralized in one person,” Heyer said. “We discussed the value of choices in our political system and how choices can be good and bad but still based on freedom.”

“The freshmen are reading a Flannery O’Connor short story, ‘Good County People’, that is set in the south in the early 1900s,” Heyer said. “We talked about how people formulate their belief systems and how that can be shaped by the environment.”

“The American Literature students are reading The Scarlet Letter and we used that to talk about the public shaming endured by Hester Prynne in the novel and what it means to have freedom of religion in the United States. We talked about whether the government in early America was more an oligarchy with just a few people making the decisions or a true democracy.”