Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the second grade at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School is … Kenzi Henkle.
On Friday afternoon, the four second-grade classes gathered at a shelter house behind the school. Kenzi and the other three candidates, Priya Singh, Ella Brock and Dalton Mitchell, stood in front of everyone while waiting for the results of the mock election to be announced.
Students built the tension by thumping their hands on the picnic tables to sound like a drumroll.
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After it was revealed that Kenzi had the most electoral votes, she received a handshake from Kristi Burbrink, one of the second-grade teachers, and a Hershey’s chocolate bar, and her classmates gave her high-fives.
The other three candidates also received a candy bar, while all second-graders enjoyed chocolate chip cookies.
“I felt excited from the beginning to the end,” Kenzi said of the two-week lesson about how an election works.
The lesson started with second-graders reading the book “Grace for President” by Kelly DiPucchio. Burbrink said they typically read the book near Presidents Day in February, but it was decided to do it this time of year because of the presidential election.
“It is about a girl in a classroom who runs for president of her school, and she goes up against a very popular student, but she works harder and she campaigns, and then she wins,” Burbrink said.
It teaches an important lesson, she said.
“That they learn to pick a candidate when they get to vote that works hard and keeps their promises and they understand the process of how an election works,” she said.
The second-graders also learned basic election vocabulary, what it takes to be eligible to vote and how the voting process works.
Students then wrote speeches and received an opportunity to be the “presidential candidate” for their classroom.
Kenzi said she jumped at the opportunity.
“It was just brave. I just really wanted to do that,” she said of declaring her candidacy.
Once the four candidates were chosen, they had to campaign, participate in a debate and give a speech.
Students made posters and signs for the candidates, and some of the candidates chose to give out candy in hopes of landing votes.
The debate was moderated by Principal Justin Brown. He asked the candidates’ opinions on school uniforms, a homework ban, a junk food ban and other hot topics.
“They all gave their opinion, and it was really awesome,” Burbrink said.
The final step in the process was voting. A ballot with the candidates’ names and pictures was created on a Google form, and students went up to an iPad one at a time and made their selection. A trifold poster board was placed around four different voting stations so the voting could be kept secret.
Kenzi thought her speech resonated with the other students, resulting in her big win. In that speech, she said the school needs bigger soccer goals and more soccer balls, and she would stop bullying and violence and encourage students to listen to their teachers so they could learn at school.
Kenzi said she liked giving a speech and learning about the election process.
It prepared her for ruling the school.
“Well, only second grade,” she said.
As far as running for president of the United States someday, Kenzi said she’s not too sure if that’s the job for her.
“It would be a hard job ruling all of the United States, and I would always be busy,” she said.
Burbrink said it’s good to teach the students about elections at an early age.
“We learn about basic government, but we really challenged them this year, and they have loved it,” she said. “There was no pressure. It was not a test. It was just all a learning experience.”
Including a mock election makes it more realistic for the students, she said.
“It gives them a chance to be creative and do things that we normally don’t do in school,” she said. “It lets them connect to the real world. It gives them an opportunity to not just learn about the basics, they get to actually connect to real-world things.”
Like any lesson, the goal is for the students to retain everything they learned.
“We hope they will remember it so that when they go to a government class later on, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I remember that in second grade,’” Burbrink said. “They’ll be able to take it with them when they learn more about it.”