In light of vitriolic presidential race, local schools approaching mock elections a bit differently

Posted at 8:00 AM, Nov 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-03 08:00:07-04

CINCINNATI -- During what has turned out to be the most negative presidential election season in recent history, there has been little escaping the vitriolic rhetoric surrounding the campaigns of both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. And Americans are feeling the effects.

A recent American Psychological Association survey found that this year’s presidential election has been a significant source of stress for more than half of U.S. adults regardless of party affiliation.

So what does that mean for local kids who are looking to this year’s election to learn about the democratic process? Schools have relied on mock elections during presidential election years to help teach young children about the basics of elections for as long as anyone can remember, but it turns out that the volatile real-life election is even casting a negative shadow over those learning tools.

Schools throughout the Tri-State are navigating mock elections carefully this year and trying their best to teach the basics without all the mudslinging.

“We’re definitely sticking to the fundamentals this election,” said Erin White, a seventh-grade world history teacher at Mason Middle School. “We usually do group discussions and talk about the candidates, but this year we’re sticking to the basics and giving students the opportunity to do a more independent exploration of each candidate.”

The reason for less group discussion is pretty simple: Teachers are nervous about all the adult topics that have come up during this election.

“There’s a lot going on that’s not really appropriate for middle school discussion,” White explained.

White’s students are still learning about the role American citizens play in shaping the government, however, and she said they still voted for their candidate in a school-wide mock election.

Mason Middle School students are part of a group of roughly 1 million students who took part in the Youth Leadership Initiative’s National Mock Election this year. It’s part of a national civic education program of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Kids Voting USA is another nonprofit that hosts mock elections for local youngsters.

Both aim to teach kids about voting and the importance of political involvement. Much like Mason City Schools, other local districts are still participating in mock elections because of those important lessons -- some are just looking to cut out the negativity.

Reading Middle School is hosting its mock election again this year, but organizers have changed things up a bit. For example, the school chose a student to represent each presidential candidate in 2012 in a mock debate prior to its school-wide election, according to guidance counselor Leslie Salerno. This year, that’s not happening.

“We decided to go a different way this year,” she said. “We’re downplaying the individual candidates this election and focusing on teaching students all about the voting process.”

Students will still learn the process all the way from registering to vote to casting a ballot. Additionally, this year’s presidential trivia contest at the middle school will focus on past presidents, she said.

In Northern Kentucky, Saint Agnes School in Fort Wright is keeping Clinton and Trump out of its mock election all together. The school is hosting a “doggie election,” complete with “Dogocrat” and “Repuppycan” candidates.

It’s a more positive way to teach kids the ins and outs of voting, said Saint Agnes Principal Rich Hoyt. The best part: All the K-9s involved are running positive campaigns.

That’s important, he said, especially for the school’s younger voters. All of its students, K-8, participate in the mock election.

“Students are learning about the whole process and it’s a lot more fun,” he explained. “There’s so much negativity going on in the real election, it’s nice to turn the tables here at school for the kids. They love it and there’s a lot of excitement about our candidates.”