SOUTHFIELD — Students of Juliette McNiven-Perry’s seventh-grade social studies class at Birney K-8 have their calendars marked for 2020 this week. That’s the year they’ll have a real say in choosing the president of the United States.
For now, they aren’t old enough to vote, but they’ve got some (near) real-life experience under their belts about how that year will unfold, thanks to a string of lessons on the General Election with civics projects and a mock election.
“On Election Day here at Birney, I felt (kind of) scared because I really didn’t know how I was going to be voting. I also didn’t know who I was going to be voting for and that’s another reason why I was scared,” Lamya Tyrus, a sixth-grader at Birney, said about the mock presidential election Oct. 30. “But overall, I voted for who I wanted to and saw that it was nothing to be scared of.”
Tyrus joined close to 500 middle school peers in the election hosted by The National Council of Black Women Voters at their school. She said her favorite part was choosing whom she wanted to vote for and having her “first time” casting a ballot.
“Voting at Birney was important to me because it gets me ready for when I get older and can really vote. It is also important to me because, if I don’t start learning how to get used to it, then I will not be able to do it when I’m 18 years old,” she said.
Birney wasn’t the only school to offer Southfield students a chance to learn from the election. MacArthur K-8 University also had a setup of trifold booths to vote in, mock voter registration cards and ballots provided by the National Congress of Black Women.
Teachers in both schools said they couldn’t miss the opportunity to inspire their students during such an important and patriotic time of year.
McNiven-Perry’s students learned all the basics, such as requirements (like being 18 years old and having identification) and also voting etiquette, like not asking booth neighbors whom they’ll be voting for or signing one’s name on the ballot.
Joyce Johnson, social studies teacher and curriculum coordinator at MacArthur, said that a hands-on lesson for students, like the role-play session they had, brings politics to life.
Her students were selected to play the roles of the presidential candidates, moderators, two commentators and the Secret Service for a mock debate. Topics covered included taxes, foreign policy, healthcare, jobs and the national debt.
“If you try to teach kids from a textbook (and) it doesn’t work, you have to teach them where they are; presenting, debating, researching … are all part of learning,” she explained.
McNiven-Perry said the mock elections really instill pride in the students and teach them the importance of being engaged in politics, even at a young age.
“Every voice is a vote and every vote counts,” she said.
Even the youngest students in Southfield could be seen last week with an “I voted. Did you?” sticker on their shirts. Kids ages 3-5 at Bussey Center for Early Childhood Education also got a mock election experience, where they entered a booth, circled either Obama’s or Romney’s face, and then cast their vote in the drop box.
“We need to inform our children, even at this early age, that voting is important,” explained Sherri Jones, community partnership manager for Bussey. She added that nearly 200 Bussey kids do things the democratic way, even when it came down to naming the school’s fish.
“We had them vote on it, and they agreed to name it Michael Jackson. They know their vote counts here, that they have a voice,” Jones said.
The teachers also agreed that school projects like this encourage conversations to occur in students’ homes about the importance of voting and how it shapes their futures.
“The ‘I Voted’ sticker in and of itself is a conversation starter,” McNiven-Perry said. “We just want them to be able to understand (which) politician is going to benefit them and see who piques their interest … and they are definitely excited to choose.”