Dear President Obama and Mitt Romney,
Want to win over the hearts and minds of Americans? Forget the mud-slinging and follow this basic advice.
More P.E. class!
Ice cream sandwiches every day at lunch!
And here’s one that’s sure to grab headlines: “We should go trick or treating every day,” said 7-year-old Grace Schleuter.
It’s just that simple to Mrs. Heather Zehnder’s first-grade class at Valley Park Elementary School in the Blue Valley School District. The class has spent the last several weeks learning about the election process.
As part of that, they polished their own campaigns under the guidance of several Blue Valley North High School social studies students. Curiously, the names Obama and Romney have rarely come up.
This campaign is about children’s books.
The first-graders read books about the election and then worked in small groups with North students to create campaign videos promoting their book. Along the way they learned how the election process works without most of the political ideology that Americans love to hate.
The first-graders have eaten up the attention from high school students. But they’ve also learned a thing or two about campaign promises. Here’s their input (just in case Obama and Romney are reading).
“They should make ice cream sandwiches every day at lunch,” six-year-old Alayna Hall declared longingly.
“Homework-free Wednesday!” hollered Jack Hancock, 6, before immediately realizing that wasn’t a big enough statement. “Homework-free every day!”
The tone is decidedly upbeat and positive, unlike some divisive political banter among adults. Even the high school class can get tense at times.
“It’s definitely not as heated as our class can get,” said Shelbie Mora, 15, who is one of the North students helping the first-graders shape their campaign.
The North students are part of a class called America Decides that is designed specifically to encourage high school students to engage in the political process. At North, students make campaign videos on a regular basis and are expected to voice their opinions about the candidates in a respectful manner each day.
Debate is encouraged but respect is mandatory, said North social studies teacher Nancy Pence.
As for the first-graders, Zehnder, who is in her sixth year of teaching, knew she had to take a different approach after the last presidential election.
“I just felt that four years ago it was over their head. We would talk about it and then they had lots of questions that led to rhetorical discussions that you don’t want to have,” Zehnder said. “Or you have kids shouting out who their parents were voting for. Then it was like, OK, we’re done.”
Teaching students about the election can be full of political landmines that require teachers to delicately dance around district policies. Some teachers use it as a reason to avoid addressing the election altogether. But Zehnder didn’t want to ignore the election and pretend that her students weren’t exposed to it at all.
Using books instead of candidates stripped away the problems.
Zehnder prepped students along the way with vocabulary words, coloring books and art projects to make it more digestible.
Students really got into one preparatory assignment that allowed them to declare what they would do with presidential powers.
Undeterred by pollsters, they were able to broach subjects that would be declared off-limits by high-dollar political consultants.
One boy pledged to forbid girl presidents. “I wot say that no geriil presidents becuas thay wuld not be good,” he wrote.
“That’s just so first-grade because girls have cooties and they want to stay away from them,” Zehnder said.
The videos and the work in small groups with the high school students have energized her students, including some who hadn’t participated much in class before.
Come Tuesday, students will watch the book election results roll in. Voters — parents, far-flung aunts and uncles, neighbors, and even The Star readers — can cast their ballots online after watching the videos. Polls close at 2:55 p.m. Nov. 6. By 3 p.m. the winner will be announced by Mrs. Zehnder.
Years from now Zehnder hopes the students won’t forget their first-grade sensibilities.
“I want them to remember the hard work and fun that goes into an election and campaigns, and to realize that no matter what book wins, we are all still a community of learners who support and encourage one another,” she said. “Big lessons for little people.”
To reach Dawn Bormann, call 816-234-7704 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org