Popularity isn’t everything in school vote
Elm Place School social studies teacher John Whitehead talks about the workings of the Electoral College before students cast their state-by-state votes. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media.
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:04AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Presidential elections roll around just a few times during a student’s school years.
So teachers at Elm Place Middle School weren’t about to pass up the teachable moment of 2012, a prime opportunity to catch students’ curiosity when they were most likely to be at rapt attention.
With the election this year turning on a small number of toss-up states, it was a golden moment to underscore what really matters in presidential elections: The state-by-state ballots cast by the electoral college.
That came to life Monday, Nov. 5, when Elm Place students representing each of the 50 states cast their states’ electoral votes based on the outcome of balloting with iPads a few days earlier. Only students who’d taken the initiative to register were eligible to participate.
“We wanted to make it realistic,” said John Whitehead, an eighth grade social studies teacher who worked on the project with Peter Helfers and Chris Hull, his counterparts for the sixth and seventh grades, respectively.
Homeroom advisories were randomly assigned their states, with some split among two states.
While President Barack Obama had won the school’s popular vote 170 to 78 — a margin of more than two to one — the outcome of the electoral college vote was much closer. It all came down to a few pivotal states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“Several students told me that not only did they watch the election coverage more, but that they understood more,” said Helfers. Some students used facts learned during the Obama-Romney debate on foreign policy to prepare for their own moderated debates in class.
Said Whitehead, “I couldn’t be more proud watching these kids really understand it.”