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Sixth-graders at Hoosac Valley Middle and High School fill out their ballots during the school’s mock election on Tuesday. With the help of English teacher Lynn Waltermire, students created a voter registration form and ballots for the middle school grades.
Wednesday November 7, 2012

More than two dozen second- and-third graders from Craneville Elementary School in Dalton sat along the basketball court of the Dalton Community Recreation Association on Tuesday morning, but it wasn’t to watch a game.

"You can’t play basketball here today. This is the national election," Alison Peters told the students, as the line of Dalton town voters queued up behind her. Peters is the director of community services for the Dalton CRA.

The community center opened its doors to several classes of Craneville students on Election Day so they could see the voting process take place before their eyes. The students are among many throughout Berkshire County who have been studying the elections and U.S. government this fall and either observed polling places or held their own mock elections in school on Tuesday.

Just as with their adult counterparts, the students seemed to possess the gamut of political positions -- from well-informed and enthusiastic to undecided or apathetic -- on the issues and candidates.

"At this age, we focus on talking about who’s running for president and the qualities the candidates have," said Pat Shepley, a second-grade teacher at Craneville Elem entary. "We encourage the children to listen to what the candidates stand for and not just who their parents or anyone tells them to vote for. Like us, they were exposed to the political commercials too."

Craneville held mock elections on Tuesday too.

"They’re really excited to be able to vote," said Aimee Packard, a Grade 3 teacher. For the most part, Packard was right.

Asked why she thought it was important to vote, second-grader Kenna Lebeau answered, "The president [has] a pretty important job."

A few students were less interested in the political process.

"I’ve already decided that I’m not going to vote when I’m older," said third-grader Philip Bushee -- at least for the time being.

Across the Dalton CRA gym, 4-year-old Ben Ehrlich was hoisted by his father, Max Ehrlich, to watch a ballot be fed into a machine -- the 371st in their precinct just before 10 a.m. This was Ben’s second time attending a presidential election; he was 6 months old for the previous one.

"I take my son and daughter to vote so they realize how important an election is and to learn about doing their civic duty," Max Ehrlich said.

Preschoolers prefer Obama

At Williamstown Com mu nity Preschool, a presidential vote was carried out by youngsters who drew an "X" under their preferred candidate. President Obama was the wee ones’ favorite, besting Rom ney, 12 to 4.

Students from pre-kindergarten through Grade 5 at C.T. Plunkett Elementary in Adams also took a school vote on Tuesday.

Eighth-grade students at Hoosac Valley Middle and High School in Cheshire immersed themselves in the elections by organizing a mock election and learning lessons along the way.

Social studies and English teacher Lynn Waltermire helped students create a voter registration form and ballots for the middle school grades to participate. Students then held a five-day voter registration period.

Seventy out of 111, or 63 percent, of the eighth-graders registered; 55 out of 106, or nearly 52 percent, of seventh-graders registered; and 52 out of 102, or almost 51 percent, of sixth-graders registered to vote at the school.

As in real life, the eighth-grade poll monitors ran into students who forgot their student IDs, which were required to vote, and some students said they weren’t sure of the difference between Demo crats and Republicans.

Presenting platforms

Hoosac students could register as Democrat, Republican or independent voters. On the mock ballot, they decided between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren for the U.S. Senate, and the question of whether their school should use solar or wind energy as a renewable resource for electricity.

Prior to the polling day, several students were involved in classroom presentations, dressing up like candidates and presenting platforms on the "three Es" -- environment, education and economy.

"It was a fun way of learning about the candidates," said eighth-grader Jerilyn Anderson, who portrayed Warren.

As of 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Hoosac students voted Obama over Romney (63 to 15), Warren over Brown (57 to 30) and solar over wind (77 to 11). Results were updated throughout the day on flat-screen televisions mounted throughout the school. The entire three-week process has also been documented for review by students from an information technology class.

Said teacher Lynn Waltermire of the first-time project for students, "We tried to make this experience as authentic as possible."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink