MARTINSBURG — Welcome to Learnville, where leaders are expected to bring morals to the position, and everyone plays a part in the governing process.
Inside Lisa Peifer’s second-grade classroom at Faith Christian Academy, dubbed Learnville for the time being, things looked similar to real life, in a sense, as the students recently conducted their own mock election for the president of town, a highly touted position that helps govern the classroom.
A yearly event and part of the curriculum, Peifer brought real life to learning as the second-graders were given insight to the actual electoral process and got hands-on experience to use for years to come.
“It’s wonderful, because we are having a real election now,” Peifer said. “Usually, it’s not as big of a deal. I do it every year, but because of the whole presidency, they’re hearing so much chatter about elections.
“It’s in my curriculum to do it, but they basically give you a half-hour lesson on it. I just blow it up. This is something they will use and learn and need for the rest of their lives. I do go overboard sometimes. I hope the kids remember it for a long time. It’s my heart. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it in the end, how much they learn and remember. Hopefully, they apply it when they go home and can talk to their parents about it.”
The multi-day process began with the students voting in a primary election, the top three vote-getters earning a spot on the ballot for the general election. To help the students understand that portion of the process, Peifer asked the young learners what they expect from a leader and what makes a person a good leader, giving them an idea of what to look for in their ideal candidates.
“We talked about what are we looking for in a second-grade leader,” she said. “They gave me more than I even had in the slots. Basically, they wanted someone that would tell the truth, someone that was fair, someone that would give extra recess, someone that was caring to other people and would put others first.
“I said, ‘By looking at all these, whoever you pick, can you say that they are most of those?’”
From there, all the students were given jobs as part of the electoral process as the campaign moved toward the general election. Candidates worked on speeches, while four students for each candidate were tasked with being campaign managers, creating signage and support. Others worked as polling guards, counters, voting secretaries and polling announcers.
“I made sure every student had some part in it,” Peifer said. “They gave their speech, and we had time for questions. I was the reporter and paparazzi, taking pictures.”
The setup was a nod toward the students’ future, simply a kid-friendly version of what will be seen at polling places all over the country today.
“We had a little blocker with the instructions,” she said. “I put the three candidates’ posters on the wall. They had to fill out a voter’s registration, present that to (the polling guard). He allowed them to vote, and when they came back, he gave them an ‘I voted’ sticker. I did as close as I could. I showed many kid-version videos to show how the process works, so they wouldn’t feel like, ‘What do I do?’ They were familiar with what was going to be a little private area.”
Then, the process got a little more in depth, the students themselves breaking into councils of Learnville, working to create potential bills to be enacted as rules of the classroom. The focus of each group was to answer what would be a good “law” to make the classroom better, how would it improve the classroom, what would be needed to make the law work, what would be the consequence of breaking the law and what would be the reward if everyone followed the law.
“I put them into groups, and they talked about what would be a good law for our class, a new rule,” Peifer said. “Out of those four groups, the president picked one from each group, and that was his council. They had a lunch date out in the hall, and he had to write the final law after hearing their ideas. Of course, I would need to approve it. It was a pretty easy rule. It was just that no one can yell. If they yell, they will get an automatic reminder, which is our discipline system. The president would enforce the reminder, and if no one got a reminder for yelling, we would have a piece of candy and 10 minutes of recess. Of course, no one yelled, wouldn’t you know.”
Learnville’s electoral process highlighted the school’s effort to shine a light on how elections work for students, Faith hosting another mock election on Monday as students in all grades “voted” for president.
Students acting as poll workers took their oath in the morning with an intercom assembly following, a way for all students to receive the same information while remaining in the small, core groups. Teachers then showed a PowerPoint presentation on the candidates in each class, and student council members visited each room to take the votes. Pre-kindergarten through first grade voted by hand, while the remaining grades voted via Chromebook. The winner was announced at 1:30 p.m.