Herkimer seniors stage mock debate, election

In a darkened auditorium, the campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are preparing for a major debate just days before the popular vote.

As posters are hung to line each side of the auditorium, Trump and Clinton supporters fold brochures, test audio-visual equipment and talk last-minute strategies.

In a white blazer, Hillary Clinton sits off to one side, reviewing highlighted portions of a speech while scrolling through notes on her cellphone. The auditorium door opens, and the Trump side of the room erupts into cheers of “Mr. Trump! Mr. Trump!” as their candidate enters.

It sounds like politics as usual. But the scene is the auditorium of Herkimer Jr./Sr. High School, and the candidates, campaign managers, volunteers and technical team are all seniors in Laura Scalise’s Government class, preparing to stage a presidential debate and election for their classmates.

More than 70 of Scalise’s students, who self-selected into the Clinton or Trump camps, were allotted campaign “funds,” and began the work of mounting a presidential campaign. This included collaborating with students from other class periods using Google classroom; creating and distributing campaign materials such as buttons, brochures, campaign ads and posters; and preparing the candidates’ speeches for the Oct. 28 debate.

On Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, students at the Jr/Sr High school were given the chance to vote. When the votes were tallied, Trump was the clear winner, with 277 votes to Clinton’s 136. The candidates also visited the elementary school on Nov. 4 so that third-through-sixth-graders can cast their ballots on Election Day.

In the end, Scalise said, she hopes her students come away with an understanding not only of how elections work, but also the importance of being actively involved in the process.

“As important as it is to go out and vote, there are a lot of other ways to get involved,” Scalise said, adding, “If you really want to change things, that’s the way to do it.”

To prepare for the project, Scalise’s students took a deep dive into research, watching each of the televised presidential debates and studying the candidates’ platforms.

Student Kyle Long, who ran the Donald Trump campaign for the project, said feeling among the students was running high as both the mock election, and the real one, drew near.

“It feels like everyone has a very strong opinion,” Long said. “This whole process gives us a chance to have our say, which we don’t always get to do.”

Scalise said her students have dealt well with the controversial nature of this year’s election cycle.

“They’ve been very mature and level-headed,” Scalise said. “They’ve been able to say, ‘I may not agree with you, but that’s O.K.,’ and that’s something many adults don’t even seem to be able to do, so I’m proud of them.”

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