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Students cast their votes; role play

From left, Luke Nelson, Clay Mazur and Lane Crose film a commercial urging students to vote for Barack Obama in the upcoming mock election. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

Political pundits say negative campaign advertising works, but not according to Oltman Junior High School eighth-grade humanities students. They don't like it.

Lori Swanson teaches two humanities classes. The morning class is organizing the John McCain campaign to win over the student body that will vote in a mock election.

But the afternoon class that is organizing for Barack Obama thinks its campaign will carry the day.

With presidential elections happening only every four years, Swanson used this one as an opportunity to get students engaged in learning about politics.

Swanson put up lists of jobs and committees so students could evaluate the job descriptions and choose what they wanted to do.

On Oct. 22 and 23, students in both classes wrote questions and introductions for the debate, to be held this week in the school's theater.

Students prepared ballots and instructions for teachers in how to administer the election to be held Nov. 4 on the actual Election Day.

District 833 School Board Member Jim Gelbmann, who works in the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office, donated "I voted" stickers.

Students are also creating campaign buttons and posters and decorating ballot boxes.

Students wrote and filmed commercials to show on the school's television sets.

"Most mock elections become popularity contests," Swanson said. "I wanted this to be real and for them to learn about the issues."

Student John Price said he "is honored" that students selected him to be Obama during the debate. Alexis Kleinschmidt will be Joe Biden.

The eighth-graders have learned a lot about politics.

Each day, Swanson has a "bellringer" question on the board that students see when they come into her room.

On Tuesday, students were asked for opinions on political advertising.

"All political ads have something mean," Price said.

He said the Norm Coleman senatorial campaign took footage from a previous campaign speech that showed Al Franken waving his arms around while telling a story about the late senator Paul Wellstone's passion while encouraging his son in a cross-country track meet. The Coleman campaign used it to convey the message Franken is an angry person.

"It's sad to be subjugating people to put downs," Kleinschmidt said. "They don't get to the issues and take things out of context."

Student Lane Crose said ads are annoying and a waste of money.

Candidates should stick to their own opinions on issues instead of talking about their opponents' views, according to Courtney Waldo. "They should give some ad money to the homeless," she said.

Talila Burka said the meanness in the senate race is leading people to consider voting for a third-party candidate.

"People are driven away by that," said Keegan Greene. "They're getting sick of it."

Candidates should respect each other, according to Clayton Mazur.

"I've heard the word 'angry' about Al Franken about a hundred times," said Adam Polta.

Angela Holtquist said candidates all say the same things and Luke Nelson said his family just fast-forwards through political ads.

It's clear students are discussing issues with their families as well, Swanson said.

Students researched and discussed which issues to focus on in advertising and during the debate.

After more discussion, students decided the economy is the main issue and added education and help with college tuition to the list. They grouped concerns about the Iraq War and terrorism under one topic.

Swanson said students have been fully engaged throughout the election process. "You can move very fast," she said, "because they get it."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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