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Alle-Kiski students study up on election

| Monday, Oct. 18, 2004

Even though most of their students can't vote, school districts are using the Nov. 2 presidential election as an opportunity to teach American government.

From mock elections and debates to roundtable discussions and extended lessons on politics, teachers around the Valley are finding unique ways to incorporate the election in the classroom.

Many districts are participating in widespread mock elections, such as the statewide initiative called the Student Mock Election Program or One Vote 2004, a national election sponsored by Channel One. Channel One is a news program geared for teens and aired in many local school districts.

South Butler County School District students this week will cast votes in One Vote 2004, with national results to be televised Thursday.

District spokesman Todd O'Shell said Knoch High School students in Kaitllyn Remenski's social studies classes have participated in roundtable discussions every Friday to talk about the election. They used Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to nearby Clinton Township last week as a discussion point.

Also at South Butler, students in the intermediate and primary elementary schools will host a mock election this Friday, O'Shell said.

Freeport Area Senior High School Principal Bob Schleiden said his students also will participate in the Channel One election, travelling from their social studies classes to the computer labs to vote.

Highlands School District is participating in the Student Mock Election Program, said high school Principal Tom Shirey.

The election has been organized by the Pennsylvania Departments of State and Education since 1988, according to the program Web site. Since 2000, students have been able to watch their voting results come in over the internet.

About 1,300 school districts are expected to participate this year.

Shirey said once the results are tallied, Highlands students will compare their voting record with that of other students and the actual election. In addition to using the information in social studies lessons, Shirey said students taking probability and statistics classes also will analyze the data.

"We'll be using it as a cross-curricular project," Shirey said.

At Allegheny Valley School District, spokeswoman Jan Zastawniak said Springdale Jr.-Sr. High School students will go to mock voting booths run by political science students on Nov. 2 to cast their ballots.

Also, two high school teachers are sponsoring debates, according to district Assistant Superintendent Gabe Ziccarelli.

Each teacher adopted a political party and students have been meeting to prepare for weeklong debates to be televised this week during the morning announcements, Ziccarrelli said.

In addition to learning about the Republican and Democratic platforms, students get a chance to try their hand at campaigning by posting signs supporting their candidate in the school.

Jessica Johns, who teaches ninth-grade American history at Apollo-Ridge Senior High School, said the electoral process doesn't really fit in with the class curriculum.

However, for about two hours every week, she's used remediation classes with the high school freshmen as an opportunity to talk about the election and current events such as the war in Iraq.

"We've watched all the debates, and we talk about why voting is important and how the electoral process works," Johns said.

"My kids aren't old enough to vote, so it's hard for them to get involved," she said. "But they've had a lot of questions."

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