Young students prepare for their turn at the polls

Chilliwack's young are getting an early lesson in democracy.

Chilliwack’s young students are getting an early lesson in democracy.

On May 2, Central elementary’s Grade 5 and 6 students are going to the polls. Teachers Christopher Lister and Suzanne Bartel are holding a mock election for their students as part of the social studies curriculum.

Mock elections are not new, teachers have been holding them for years, getting their students to run against each other, and having classes vote on the pretend parties. But the difference with Central’s election, they’re bringing in real candidates and voting on those real candidates.

Over a two-week span, which started earlier this week, five candidates – Dorothy-Jean O’Donnell, Marxist-Leninist Party; Gwen O’Mahony, New Democratic Party; Diane Janzen, Liberal Party; Jamie Hoskins, Green Party; and Clive Edwards, Western Block Party – will be presenting to the kids their party’s views, and answering questions from the students.

Parents have also been invited to participate.

The idea to bring the local candidates in to the school stemmed from an English as a second language student asking Bartel who her parents should vote for in the May 2 federal election.

Bartel informed the student that she couldn’t tell her parents who to vote for, they had to decide that for themselves based on their own personal beliefs. And what better way to help the students and their parents better understand than to bring the candidates in themselves.

“By doing this, our students are learning what it means to live in a country that practices democracy,” said Bartel.

“We’re reminding them they have a voice,” added Lister. “And we hope when they’re able to vote they will participate in their right and responsibility as a citizen to vote.”

Voter turnout in the 2008 federal election reached an all-time low with just 59 per cent of Canada voting. In several communities across the country, voter turnout was less than 50 per cent.

Mock elections, like the one at Central, that parallel real elections could improve those numbers.

According to Student Vote, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing student interest in elections, if kids know at an early age about democracy, and know how to vote and why they should vote, they’re more likely to vote when they’re of age.

When other schools heard about Central’s election process, they asked to participate. Cultus Lake elementary, Strathcona elementary, Little Mountain elementary, Watson elementary and Vedder elementary will either attend the school for the talks, or watch them via streaming video on Central’s website.

Students must see all presentations to be able to vote.

“We’re trying to be as unbiased as possible,” said Bartel. “No matter how big or small a party is, they deserve to be listened to.”

Following the last candidate’s presentation on April 29, the students will submit their ballots.

“It will be really interesting to compare the student vote with the Canada-wide vote,” said Bartel.

All videos will be streaming live at www.livestream.com/centralelection from April 26 to 28 at 10:30 a.m. and April 29 at 1 p.m. The videos will also be archived on the site.

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