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Program gives students taste of election politics

Ivy Vogel

Younger, hipper versions of President Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry argued their platforms before an audience of Grand Valley High School students Tuesday afternoon.Dan Evans, standing in on behalf of Senator Kerry, debated foreign policy, the economy and education reform with his adversary, Dylan Lindauer, aka, President Bush.”President Bush is the biggest-spending president in decades,” Evans said, accusingly.”John Kerry flip-flops on everything,” Lindauer said, responding to Kerry’s accusation on the national deficit.Every other year, juniors and seniors from Grand Valley High School debate current political issues as a part of the Kids Voting program, which encourages school districts, teacher and students to understand and take part in the electoral process.Although most students in elementary, junior high and high school are not 18, all kids involved in Kids Voting get an opportunity to go to election precincts and cast votes for constitutional amendments, house and state representatives and presidential candidates. Every teacher involved with Kids Voting uses some method to teach students about national issues without weighing them down with political mumbo jumbo.Grand Valley political science, geography and world affairs teacher Scott Kiburis asks his students which issues they’re most interested in and then develops two debate teams for each issue – one for and one against – and has them battle it out in front of their peers.Students study the issues by watching political debates, researching the topics on the Internet and watching how the other side presents their positions, Kiburis said.Similar to “real debates” each mock debate starts with one candidate or side issuing an introductory statement.”Isn’t the government’s role to protect the society it governs?” Jamie Vance asked during her opening argument supporting Amendment 35, which would increase taxes on tobacco.”Most of the hardship from this tax will fall to low-income people,” said Patricia Forney, who argued against Amendment 35. “Low-income people are 48 percent more likely to smoke.”Though the arguments remained civil, they tend to get more heated in the classroom, Kiburis said.When students first start discussing the issues, they tend to vote against a candidate rather than voting for one, Kiburis said.As students speak with one another and research the candidates, their opinions often change. Evans, the student standing in for Senator Kerry, was a staunch Bush supporter before researching his candidate.”After he took an online quiz that asks questions to show, on a sliding scale, who you most identify with he said to me, ‘All of mine are for John Kerry. I gotta rethink supporting Bush,'” Kiburis said.Kiburis does not encourage his students to vote for one candidate or another, but he does find himself playing devil’s advocate to create good discussion in the classrooms.”They can’t vote for real so we encourage them to look at both sides,” Kiburis said.On Tuesday, Grand Valley students, as well as students in Roaring Fork School District Re-1 and Garfield School District Re-2, will see how their votes might have affected the presidential election when results from their mock vote are tallied. “The most interesting part of this program is after the results come in, most kids bring in a newspaper,” Kiburis said. “We see how their votes compare to national votes and then we analyze the outcome.”Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. 534ivogel@postindependent.com


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