Presidential campaigns took a break from talking about economics and the Iraq War to address such weighty topics as wearing hats in school and reopening the snack bar.
Three hundred and two students acting as delegates from all 50 states had a three-hour, hands-on civics lesson in voting at the 2008 Political Mock Convention at Nikiski Middle-High School on Oct. 22.
Students were allowed to debate on 12 different issues, ranging from high school policies to state politics and federal issues. After voting on the resolutions, the student delegates heard campaign speeches from fellow students representing four different presidential candidates, and voted on the next president. John McCain got the most votes.
Bob Bird, government and U.S. history teacher at the high school, as well as candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in the upcoming election, has been staging a mock convention as part of his curriculum since 1984 in order to teach students the ins and outs of the political process.
“The goal is to let students know that just voting is not being a good citizen,” Bird said. “You have to get involved on a local level. To really be a good citizen you have to pick your party, work within it and bring the ideas to the general public. That’s what a convention does.”
The first three resolutions passed, first with students voting for the freedom to wear hats and coats in school, despite an argument from an Indiana delegate who said, “If you have your hat on and you stay warmer, then you’ll just sweat more and we’ll have to smell it.”
A senior lounge was voted in, and then a resolution reopening the snack bar was passed despite arguments that it would contribute to obesity rates and make students fall asleep in class.
The fourth resolution failed, which would have banned sexual relationships in school, including hand holding and any kind of touching. One Colorado student delegate offered his own awkwardness toward public displays of affection as a reason why the resolution should fail, but a girl representing Massachusetts responded, saying, “If schools are going to start deciding student’s morals, what’s next? Religion?”
The students next decided against lowering the smoking age, and then voted to reopen Nikiski beach access to the public. The next resolution would have required all females from 13 to 18 years of age to use birth control, enforced by the state of Alaska. Some students argued for it, saying it would save some girls from the responsibility of raising a child during their teenage years, but others said the girls should be forced to take responsibility for their own actions, and the resolution failed.
Reflecting on the need for jobs in Alaska during harsh economic times, students decided to build the Denali gas pipeline, despite other students’ protests that wildlife would be adversely affected.
Student delegates then voted against a resolution that would require people under 19 to wear a helmet while riding in a car.
Loud boos met the announcement of the next resolution, the legalization of homosexual marriage in the United States, and students voted it down.
Finally, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was allowed, and the No Child Left Behind Act was voted to be removed from Alaska.
Students said the convention was a success.
“It’s good to have and it’s fun,” said Nebraska delegate John Phillips, a senior in Bird’s government class.
Co-secretary Tyler Mabrey, who was responsible for reading resolutions and taking roll call, said she thought the convention went well, and that the juniors and seniors took the convention seriously. But she wasn’t sure about the middle school students, she said.
In the middle of the resolutions debate, three local politicians took the stage and gave the students a bit of advice. New Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey told students how they could change the world.
“Never give up your belief in God, in country, in family, in your school,” Carey said. “As long as you believe in these four things, you can believe in yourself. As long as you believe in yourself, you can truly change the world for the better by changing the way people perceive it and respond to it.”
After greeting the students with “What’s up, dogs?” Mike Chenault, Republican candidate for state House District 34, told students it was their duty and right to vote, and to make sure they research candidates and their positions. Dr. Nels Anderson, Democratic candidate for state Senate District Q, wrapped up the guest speaker segment of the convention.
The state delegates took turns announcing each of their delegates’ votes for president following the two-minute campaign speeches given about the candidates by student representatives. McCain took the election with 209 votes, Barack Obama followed with 44, Republican Ron Paul came in third with 26 and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney took 10. “Other” candidates nominated included Sarah Palin, Bob Bird, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and Optimus Prime.
The convention precedes the upcoming presidential election and was formed as a tool to teach students how the government works.
“It really helps give our kids a chance to express their own opinions and express opinions that they discuss around the dinner table at home,” said David Means, a Nikiski High School teacher. “I think that being involved in the organization of putting the convention together from the ground up under the tutelage of Mr. Bird is an excellent thing that they wouldn’t get anyplace else.”