Preparing for the election, even though they can't vote

Oct 30, 2012

What if there was one political convention where all political parties were represented? Well, a group of people not even of voting age did just that in Columbia. Oakland Junior High 9th graders spent the last two months preparing for a mock political convention representing local, state, and national candidates.

On the day before Oakland Junior High’s political convention, it’s a little chaotic. Students are making last minute touches to their poster-boards, and perfecting their pamphlets and feature stories on the candidates].

The student’s focus is tangible, and so are the nerves.

But, 15-year-old Abby Theroff, is more excited than anything.

“I’m looking forward to talking to all the people. I love talking in front of people. I don’t know why but people all are afraid of it, but I always want to do that,” Theroff said.

Teachers of the 9th grade Honors English and Government classes have made a tradition of this mock convention since the 2000 election. Students, parents, and teachers start the project at the beginning of the school year every election season. Then students are paired-up, and assigned a current political candidate at random. The teams conduct extensive research, and by the convention, they must have a speech, a written biography, a poster board and pamphlets about their candidate.

Teacher Joshua Johnson says despite the project’s workload, the students always pull through.

“I think I’m always amazed every time we do that what kids are capable of doing when they have a challenge in front of them and they work towards that. And they believe in them,” Johnson said.

Theroff says the project changed her mind about politics.

“I didn’t really think much about politics, like I hated them until this year, and this project in general got me interested in politics, making speeches, helping people. All of these issues. I have an opinion, I actually started to form an opinion about all of these things, and it kind of makes me want to share them,” Theroff said.

Student Hunter Johnson says his research on Vice President Joe Biden made him consider issues he never thought of before.

“One of the big issues in this campaign is jobs and the environment. So with his energy idea we can get America energy independent, help save the environment and create millions of new jobs. This sort of just came important to me just from researching the topic,” Johnson said.

On the day of the convention, students get to share their research not only with parents, and the local community, but some candidates even came to support the students, too.

Republican Vicky Hartzler, who is running for re-election as the US representative of Missouri’s 4th district, came in time to see Theroff’s speech – which was about Hartzler.

“I am so proud of them and the good hard work they put into it. It is encouraging and inspiring,” Hartzler said.

I was really nervous at first but after seeing the relief on her face it was just like rewarding because it tells me she really cares about us and she really in touch with what we’re doing and she really want to come out and support us. It’s just an honor to meet her and everything,” Theroff said.

As the event came to an end, students weren’t the only ones relieved the project was coming to a close. Johnson stood watching proud of his students

“It’s one of those things that I’m very excited about it being over, and it’s turning out to be a fantastic event. I think a lot of times our community doesn’t know how outstanding our kids are here, and anytime we get to show what our Oakland kids can do, I’m always very proud of that,” Johnson said.

During the next election season the majority of these students will be able to vote.