Niles students get civics lesson by casting votes
Kindergartener Saugat Choudhary makes his choice as the students at Nelson School in Niles participated Oct. 24 in a national mock election for president. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 7, 2013 1:43AM
NILES — Children’s TV programs are a cause close to third-grader Jerry Balthazar’s heart.
When Nelson School participated in a mock presidential election late last month, he cast a vote for the candidate he believed would keep kids’ shows on the air.
Some students couldn’t pinpoint why they chose a candidate. Others, like 11-year-old Itahi Ramirez, had specific reasons.
The fifth-grader said she supported Barack Obama because “he’s going to help make more jobs and help the immigrants.”
Jennifer Roman, 11, said taxes were the biggest issue and voted for Mitt Romney.
Niles elementary students joined more than 1 million of their peers from across the country in voting for the next president through Every Kid Votes, a nationwide mock election program hosted by Studies Weekly Publications.
More than 600 kindergarten through sixth-grade students at Nelson cast ballots by computer.
Every Kid Votes tallied and shared the results on its website last week: 59 percent of the student votes went to Obama and 31 percent to Romney.
The incumbent president also secured student electoral votes from the District of Columbia and 39 states. Most children in traditionally red states — Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska and Oklahoma — voted for Romney.
Seven out of 10 Illinois pupils voted for Obama.
“I think the younger kids mirror their parents but I do think the older kids make up their own minds,” said Nelson School Principal Jean LeBlanc.
She said the presidential election is an opportunity to educate kids about civics. Mock voting is particularly beneficial for students who have immigrated from countries that don’t share a similar democratic process, she added.
“(Voting) is an important part of our citizenry privilege and rights and, in my opinion, responsibilities, too,” LeBlanc said. “I like to think that we’re setting (children) up to believe it’s an expected process.”
Nelson also voted on a new Student Council last month. Students running for office organized campaign teams, created posters, passed out beaded necklaces and delivered speeches.
The national presidential election “kind of made me want to run for something,” said fifth-grader Afroditi Balca, 10. She said her math skills and commitment to use school money for “necessary things” would make her a good treasurer.
Sixth-grader Alexus Bonilla, 12, ran for president. Serving higher quality school lunches was part of his platform.
“I want to see what difference I can make in the school,” he said.
Niles resident Umang Shah said his son, Krish, 10, ran for school secretary after watching the presidential debates and followed the campaigns. Sohi, his 7-year-old daughter, has inquired about the presidential candidates and their wives.
Shah, who served as a parent volunteer for the mock election, said Krish has begun to understand what it means to vote by conscience.
One day when his son’s vote matters, Shah said, “I want him to be able to make those decisions himself and be accountable for them.”