Non-Partisan, animal-themed election teaches Our Lady of Divine Providence students basics of political process

It is now appropriate to address Geneveev the Giraffe as “Madam President” – at least at Our Lady of Divine Providence School.

The pseudo presidential winner – represented by a stuffed giraffe sponsored by eighth grader Morgan Yeager – prevailed over Henry the Hippo in a mock run-off staged at the Metairie school on Nov. 6, the actual date of the presidential election.

I spelled Geneveev’s name phonetically for the little kids,” said Morgan, highlighting one of the ways she appealed to the student-body electorate, whose youngest voters were 3 years old.

Geneveev’s motto is ‘Always Stand Tall,’ and her promise is to always see over the heads of the other candidates to find new and exciting ideas,” said Morgan of her animal’s platform.

The final election, coordinated by Our Lady of Divine Providence’s social studies department and timed to take place on “Super Tuesday,” was the culmination of a series of age-appropriate, non-partisan activities that immersed the entire student body in the presidential election process.

The fun began on Oct. 29 with introductory speeches from the five candidates at a morning assembly in church. Vying for the presidency in addition to Geneveev the Giraffe were Henry the Hippo, Ms. Bear, Mike the Tiger and Larry the Lion.

The following day, students in every grade made a campaign sign for the candidate of their choice in their classrooms. During Fall Fest on Oct. 31, the furry candidates, held aloft by their student sponsors, “walked” around campus to convince students of the merits of their candidate. Each candidate’s platform was humorously based on the animal attributes of each.

“Henry the Hippo’s motto is ‘I’ve Got Tons of Love…Literally,’” said Donald Barrett, the seventh grader who had the task of garnering votes for portly Henry. Donald helped his candidate appeal to younger voters by passing out hippopotamus-themed coloring sheets. He also polished the hippo’s look by giving him a necktie. The campaign ploy was effective, with Henry advancing to the run-off after the school’s Nov. 2 primary election, alongside arch-rival Geneveev.

Before students narrowed the field to two in the primary, assistant principal Tricia Arceneaux, moderator of the mock election and the school’s American history and world geography teacher, explained the Electoral College by presenting an “electoral map” based on Our Lady of Divine Providence School itself.

“Each class gets a certain number of electoral votes based on the number of kids in that class,” Arceneaux said of her clever approach to teaching a concept with which even adults sometimes grapple. “The students get to see that (the presidential election) is based on the population of each state; on Tuesday, everybody will vote, but it’s not just the people’s vote that counts. Each state has a certain number of electors, and whichever candidate in that state gets the most votes gets all the electoral votes in that state.”

While designed to be fun, real learning took place throughout the nine-day electoral process. In addition to exposing even the youngest students to vocabulary words such as “candidate,” “primary” and “vote,” students graphed their election results in math, wrote papers on what they would change if they were president in language arts, and researched the platforms of the two real presidential candidates in the areas of energy, defense and the Space Program.

During music class, students rehearsed patriotic songs sung at each election assembly. Older students had to watch all three televised presidential debates and complete analyses of the real candidates. Their inter-disciplinary work was displayed in the school cafeteria on “Red, White and Blue Day” – election day.

“We were trying to be apolitical,” said Arceneaux of the novel curricular approach to teaching civic participation. “Sadly, the state of campaigning and politics is kind of polarized and nasty, and we didn’t want to bring nastiness in.”

Morgan, who groomed Geneveev the Giraffe for success in the mock contest, said her favorite part of the process was being able to remind children who have “no idea who Barack Obama is or who Mitt Romney is” of the importance of voting.

“They don’t realize it yet, but that’s going to be their responsibility when they get older,” Morgan said. “I think our school election was a great way to get them and their parents to think about this!”

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