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Kinzel '92 and AP Gov Classes at School Meeting

Students learn about politics through a mock election, while many sixth-formers eligible to vote.

Sixth-former Savannah Stockly’s birthday at the close of October was extra-special this year, as the biggest gift she received was a vote in today’s national election.

“Voting is important to me because it means I have a say in things that happen to this country,” Savannah said. “Since I was young, I have been making my own choices as to what I believe; I never had things forced upon me. So when I knew I would be able to vote this year, I started paying attention, doing my research and listening to what each candidate had to say.”

As many as 44 Brooks students were eligible to head to the polls today and voice their opinions with the rest of the adult population. Chair of the History Department Susanna Waters helped numerous boarders register and submit absentee ballots, while local day students were encouraged to hit up polling centers with their parents before or after the school day. And science teacher Kate Zipin compiled a brief ballot guide, as well as offered rides to the local polls.

“I was so excited to have my birthday so close to the election,” said Ani Bilazarian ’13, who turned 18 at the beginning of this month. “I am not a smoker, so buying cigarettes and being able to get a tattoo wasn't nearly as exciting as being able to vote this year!”

The history department in particular used the election to discuss policy and procedure with students. Most notably, kids in AP Government were split into two presidential campaign teams that educated the entire student body before hosting a campus-wide mock election today. Throughout the fall, the two campaigns plastered posters around school, made political announcements during School Meeting, sent out campus-wide e-mails and made campaign videos.

Additionally, every history teacher shared with their students two articles, one about the presidential candidates’ platforms and the other on the Electoral College, prior to a politically-themed dinner last month. During the meal, which was organized by faculty on the Diversity Leadership Council and in the history department, AP Government students prompted discussions with fact sheets and prepared questions.

All students were welcomed to view screenings of the political debates in Room X, as well as listen to guest speaker Will Kinzel '92 during a recent School Meeting. Kinzel, who serves as policy advisor and counsel to U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, spent time last month in Massachusetts with his wife to help with Senator Scott Brown and presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaigns.

“Our goals were education of the political process and for kids to engage in self-discovery,” Waters, who is the history department chair, said of the academic programming. “It’s only natural to model your opinions after your parents, which is healthy and expected. But it’s also good to inspire self-education and to form your own opinions. We wanted to empower the AP Government students to be leaders among the student body. But also from class to class and form to form, we wanted students to do their own investigating as well.”

Allie Barry ’13, who worked the mock election table during lunch, noted that the voter turnout was high. But Meaghan Flanagan ’13 pointed out that the vote seemed to be split 50/50. William Kimball ’13 hoped to sway some voters by offering candy for an Obama vote. Equally ethical, Willie Platt ’13 and Connor Hannough ’13 pledged to shave their heads should Romney take the school vote.

All joking aside, William, who is 18, felt a sincere moment of pride when he sealed his absentee ballot last month (which he completed in his dorm room while his friends played video games). Caroline Trustey ’13 was so excited to vote, she arrived at her polling center at 6:45 a.m., securing her spot as the second person in Wenham to cast a ballot. And Whitney Jones ’13 wasn’t sure who was more excited for her to vote early yesterday, her or her mom (who was sure to photograph the moment).

Yesterday, Savannah also voted early in her home state of Maine. She felt prepared in the voting booth, as she spent a substantial amount of time doing research and watching the debates. And the work she did in her AP Government class proved essential in determining where candidates stood on those issues that meant the most to her.

“As the head of the Gay-Straight Alliance on campus, the issue of gay marriage is a huge one,” Savannah said. “Another is the pro-choice movement, which I am strongly passionate about. Along with economic and foreign policy issues, the social issues are what climb to the top of my list.”

Sam Milbury ’13 voted early in the morning at an elementary school in Peabody. Concerned primarily about the economy — more jobs; lower taxes — Millbury took his presidential vote quite seriously. Conversely, Suki Smith ’13 and Lauren Bishop ’13 hit the polls after the traditional workday.

"I walked into the church and saw the little standing cubicles that everyone talks about. I filled out a registration form on which I had to put my license number," said Suki, who voted around 6 p.m. in her hometown of Newburyport. "The woman told me to go over to the stands and fill out the ballot, fold it and put it back in the manila folder. I was clearly the youngest person there, but it felt really cool to know that my vote was going into this election, just like I had seen all of the other votes go in four years ago."

Suki felt prepared for the ballot questions after reviewing the topics with her mom. But she decided not to discuss the merits of any of the candidates, allowing her to make up her own mind without any parental imput.

"Walking out of there, it was definitely a weird feeling to know you just voted for the next president of the United States," Suki said.

And there was no line at Andover’s precinct 1 when Ani cast her ballot around noon. She felt well prepared to vote in the presidential race after all her AP Government classwork. And as she’s interested in professionally going into medicine, she did her own in-depth research on Massachusetts’ second ballot question regarding physician-assisted suicide.

“This, like other important issues, is not one that should be voted for in ignorance and without proper knowledge of both sides of the debate,” Ani noted. “I am so exited that my voice will be heard this year. My grandparents always told me stories of how unjust the government and elections were in Armenia. I didn't realize until recently how lucky I am to be a citizen of a country that values my voice and opinions as it does.”

While President Obama secured his second term in the real world, it was Republican challenger Mitt Romney who won the on-campus mock election. As much as 87 percent of the student body casted a vote on Election Day, with 188 votes (or 58 percent) going to Romney.