TAMPA, Fla. — It’s not been an easy election year, but students, young and old, are getting a glimpse into the political process as it happens in real-time. Teachers across the Tampa Bay area see the value in tackling the tough topics down to the easy steps to pave a way for future voters.
Monday wasn’t a typical school day at James Elementary in Tampa. That’s because it was Election Day…sort of.
“That’s something that our teachers have been talking about and sharing with them, why do we vote? Do we vote for change? And how we do that, and this being part of that process," said James Elementary assistant principal Nicole Meyerson.
Kindergarteners through 5th grade got a chance to cast their ballots in a mock election, learning the process along the way. Third-grader David Diaz might be ten years shy from being eligible to vote, but he still gets the significance.
“It’s important to vote because if you don’t vote, that means there’s not going to be a president,” said Diaz. “If there’s no president, there’s no laws. No laws, no jobs."
Students got a “voter ID card” and chose which candidate they wanted to vote for without getting into the politics behind the process. Third graders helped operate the polls and sanitize stations. Teachers explain they’re trying to build a foundation at a young age.
“Although they’re young, they’re still change agents,” said teacher Briana Joseph. “We want them to go home and have those conversations with their families and their parents.”
About 20 miles north, students in Rachel Miller’s classes at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Pasco County are tackling bigger issues, like voter turnout. Miller says about a third of her students are eligible to vote during this election.
“I don’t focus on the politics or the candidate side of things,” said Miller. “It’s a lot of how does something happen. How does the electoral college actually work?”
Miller says she sees more engagement every year as students learn how elections and the process works so they can make informed decisions down the road. But whether a student is eight years old or 18, teachers want them to know their voices matter.
“They can go and be little activists and go to rallies and go to marches, and they have opinions and they have ideas,” said Miller. “The earlier you can plant those, kind of the foundational understanding the processes, they’re much more likely to want to participate in it.”