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A group of about 30 Newtown High School seniors attended a Tuesday, October 18, forum at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) called “Campaign 2016, It’s Complicated.”
NHS educators Jason Edwards and Candace Dietter chaperoned the students, who are all taking the school’s government courses this semester.
After they learned about the forum, Mr Edwards said on Tuesday, October 25, “We thought how perfect… It wasn’t just about a panel discussion on who would be the best president, so it didn’t devolve into that, nor did the questions period at the end, either.”
According to a release for the event, the forum rounded up political experts to offer a roadmap of which states, issues, and trends to watch for in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential election campaign. The event, which was free and open to the public, was held in the school’s Lyman Center for the Performing Arts. The forum was not a debate, but it was designed to provide insight and analysis of the campaign from the various perspectives of participants, which included RealClearPolitics (RCP) National Political Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns as the keynote speaker. A panel of SCSU political science faculty members — made up of Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, Jonathan Wharton, Jennifer Hopper, and Art Paulson — was moderated by SCSU Journalism Department Chair Cindy Simoneau. The event was offered by the SCSU Office of Integrated Communications and Marketing.
Mr Edwards said the speakers were effective and spoke about the electoral college map, trends in the polls, battleground states, and more. The local state and town elections were also discussed.
The forum worked well with the topics that students in government courses have been studying. Mr Edwards said Ms Dietter had the idea early on to arrange the semester’s curriculum to coincide with the election process this year.
Students will continue to learn about the election process until Election Day, November 8. Mr Edwards said on Tuesday, November 2, student government members will volunteer to “work the polls” at the school for a mock election, which will have students reporting to an area of the school with their student IDs to be cleared for voting. Students will then fill out “ballots,” and voter turnout will be noted with the results.
“We are trying to mimic real life,” said Mr Edwards, explaining that students will be able to vote throughout the day at free periods on four presidential candidates and running mates — Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for the Democratic Party, Donald Trump and Mike Pence for the Republican Party, Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka for the Green Party, and Gary Johnson and Bill Weld for the Libertarian Party.
Mr Edwards said he stresses with his students that Election Day is about “so much more than the presidential race.” While the presidential race is important, Mr Edwards said, it is also important to pay attention to who is in Congress.
“These are people who impact us every day,” said Mr Edwards.
Students in one of Mr Edwards’s classes on October 25 were working on studying campaign websites to build arguments for or against candidates, specifically they were studying propaganda techniques.
Grace Walter took a moment from her work to say she found the forum at SCSU interesting and informational. For this year’s election, Grace said she learned many people are not expected to vote based on being neutral or impartial to both main party candidates.
“I think it is important that people do vote,” said Grace. “Even if it is about who is the lesser evil, you want to pick the lesser evil… You should use your right to vote, because it is important and it can effect you in a lot of ways.”
Learning about the influence past elections can have on current elections was interesting for student Alex Trompetta, who said he also learned more about local elections from attending the forum. Student Riley Rising said he loved the forum for providing “tons of useful information” without bias.
Student Camryn Cicarelli said she also found the forum interesting, especially learning about the electoral college map and how predetermined voting can become closer to Election Day.
Camryn said she wants people to understand how important it is to be informed.
“Your role as an American is really to be well educated,” said Camryn, “and that can just be going online and researching. Grasping a concrete political view is important even if you are not able to vote, because it just gets you thinking of the future of our country… We are the next generation.”