It all started in October with a visit from incumbent State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (@donnalupardo). Each year when we get to the section of curriculum regarding initiative and referendum she comes in to talk about the practical implications of those two democratic features in government and on our lives. She additionally spoke about the impact of Citizens United on her campaigning as well as the role of interest groups in an election cycle. The students were able to ask her questions and she was able to answer our questions in a way that furthered our knowledge or statewide politics, bipartisan work in the state legislature, caucus's within the state legislature and fundraising during a campaign. We are very thankful for her visit to our class.
Next up was Election Day. In class, we grouped up to breakout the key of the White House in several different BreakoutEDU (combination of paper and digital) that a couple students and I constructed. All groups broke out just in the nick of time!
That night, we had a gathering to watch the election results in my classroom.
The conversations that night reflected my student's curiosity, knowledge of the electoral system and the media. They were keeping track of which states their candidate needed to win in order to capture the elusive 270 votes needed. It was fascinating to sit back and watch them experience this night together as they saw what we had been learning about unfold in front of them. Most of the students knew who their candidate was and as results came in, there were cheers and disappointment going back and forth as we watched the race to 270 tighten up.
In early December, we were blessed with a visit from our incumbent State Senator, Fred Akshar (@fredakshar). His visit was about a month after the election and he was able to share his knowledge of what it was like to campaign again so soon after winning the special election that put him in office the year prior. He spoke of how financing influences campaign decisions, what life if like in the public eye and how things function on a day to day basis both in Albany and while he is home in his district. We are very appreciative of his time with us.
In December, we were given a once in a life time opportunity to watch the Electors in NY cast their ballots. We traveled to Albany on December 19th and after a tour of the capitol building we were seated in the gallery to watch the proceedings. Adding to the excitement, former President, William J. Clinton is an Elector for NY. The process was fascinating and so were the questions from the students. It was clear that they were not only curious about the process and people in the room (Governor Cuomo, LT. Governor Hocul, Mayor DeBlasio, etc.) but also about the implications of faithless electors (had there been any). I am not going to lie, I was geeking out about being in the same room with a former President but also about getting to watch this process.
Friday morning, the student's got a lesson in bureaucracy and what happens when you combine multiple agencies. We arrived outside the 7th St entrance to the National Mall at 4:30 AM and prepared to wait for the gates to be opened at 6 AM. 6 AM came and went as we waited for the gates to be opened. Finally around 8 AM the gates opened and we got through security and went to stake our spots at the viewing section. We were very lucky to get into the first non-ticketed section and chose to stay by the Jumbotron so we could get a close up view of the events of the day. The reality of the 4 hour wait that was ahead of us started to sink in for the students and we began to talk about the experience, the day, the meaning of the ceremony and logistics of the day.
Once it began, the students were attentive, asking questions and running the gamut of emotions. Some were very excited about the possibilities that our newly sworn in President offered. Others were very upset about what a Trump administration would mean for them. Regardless of your politics, it was a trip of memories and shared experiences. I would not trade that for anything. I am excited to spend the rest of the school year with a group of teens who care about their country, care about their neighbors and want to work to make this country more reflective of what they feel it should be.