Election messages from local students
Donald. Hillary. Move aside.
There’s a different type of presidential election going on at State College Area High School, one which the student participants and teachers overseeing the initiative wish would wear off on the national candidates.
A civil presidential campaign.
As part of an extracurricular project, overseen by social studies teacher Andy Merritt and intern Nicole Gargiulo, students are running their own presidential election.
Earlier this year, a group of students caught wind of the initiative, which allowed students to run for president.
State High presidential candidates down to four students
Starting with eight, it’s now down to just four: junior Caden Buxton, a Republican; senior Ruth Dangelo, of the Green Party; junior Emily Lieb, of the Libertarian Party; and junior, Shreyas Sundar, a Democrat.
The parties they’re representing, however, don’t necessarily reflect their personal beliefs.
But getting to this point wasn’t easy.
Just to be eligible to run for president, the then potential candidates were asked to get at least 100 signatures of support from their peers within a certain time frame, Buxton said.
Those eligible students then participated in a primary debate. That was followed by open electronic voting by the student population.
Those students with the most votes from each of the parties were able to participate in the general election, Sundar said.
Buxton and Lieb ran unopposed.
A final debate will be held Monday at the high school before students have a final vote Tuesday — Election Day.
The substance of the debates they’re having is far greater than what you’re seeing on television, and they know what they’re talking about.
Andy Merritt, teacher
“The substance of the debates they’re having is far greater than what you’re seeing on television, and they know what they’re talking about, and they have to operate within a (party) platform,” Merritt said. “It’s not a bunch of attacks. As long as they stay in the realm of their platform they have latitude and they’re fine.”
And the end game is walking away with bragging rights.
A group of students also act as moderators who ask questions and put the candidates on the spot.
“It’s much more in depth than questions about general foreign policy,” Lieb said. “It was like, ‘What would you do about Saudi Arabia in Yemen and how would you use military action for or against them?’ It was really in-depth.”
The student presidential candidates also have running mates who participated in their own debates.
Dangelo said the topics of the questions in the debate generally aren’t about things students learn in class, so it forced the participant to do research outside of class.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it because we’re learning before actually becoming a voter.
Ruth Dangelo, State High senior
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it because we’re learning before actually becoming a voter,” Dangelo said. “We’re getting to know the issues on all sides of a topic, and at the same time educating others so when the time comes (we) can vote for what and who we believe in.”
And it calls on the importance of teaching civics to students before they’re eligible to vote.
Merritt said the message is to vote for who you want as long as it’s informed.
“Without getting too sappy about democracy, without informed people you get the government you deserve,” Merritt said.
So far, according to a poll from the school, Sundar is leading with 38.8 percent of the votes. In the same poll that included 662 responses, State High students believe the Islamic State is the biggest issue the country faces.