I could never have imagined the variety and depth of learning that occurred here at Brookwood during election season. Every Social Studies teacher from PreK to eighth grade planned for this event in thoughtful ways. Since last spring when the discussions began in earnest, each division committed to developmentally appropriate ways to engage our students in what it means to participate in democracy.
As a part of the Upper School continuum, Ms. Black had sixth graders practice debating skills, and Mr. Lenci had seventh graders research the candidates, their platforms, and track polling numbers. Eighth graders comprised an Election Leadership Committee and with Mr. Abramson’s guidance, created and organized mock ballots for a mock vote by the entire Upper School.
“Seventh graders dove head-first into this election, using the app Explain Everything to make detailed presentations about the Electoral College. In an election season teeming with incivility, it was refreshing to witness the respectfulness with which our students wielded their ideas and welcomed others,” says Kent Lenci, Grade 7 History teacher.
“I was very impressed with seeing the group invest in creating an authentic election so that the students could experience both the fun and responsibility of voting. It was also instructive for the students to see how the Electoral College works in theory and practice, as the election was devised to show that in action,” adds Grade 8 History teacher and Grade 6 Social Studies teacher Peter Abramson.
The Lower School spent time identifying issues they would vote on, settling ultimately on two ballot questions: whether or not to use sticks for building at recess and whether there should be time limits on the use of the swings. Lower School teachers worked with their students to make ballots that reflected child-centered design. While Pre-K and Kindergartners used pictorial ballots, the first, second and third grades had text on theirs. When the big day came, baked goods were provided by the Pre-K to celebrate the vote, while the Kindergarten-generated “I Voted” stickers, which were worn proudly by all.
The first graders ran the logistics for voting day including voting booth design; second graders were the ones to identify the issues, and, together with third graders, consolidated the ideas into two initiatives. Third graders also prepared and shared speeches, four of which were voted on to represent the pros and cons of each initiative to the entire Lower School in a Town Square meeting. The teachers swelled with pride as the informed voters heard the lobbying of their peers.
“The highlight for me is that it got the kids talking,” says Moira Smith, Grade 3 teacher. “Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the kids are much more aware now of keeping each other safe and happy at recess.”
In the Middle School, students took a different approach in finding issues that connected directly with their curriculum. The fourth grade found the immediate connection between their Greek studies and the varying concepts of “democracy.”
“It was exciting to watch the fourth graders engage in the process of democracy with commitment and curiosity! Fourth graders looked at the evolution of democracy. They had the opportunity to vote on a local ballot question as ancient Athenians would have during a direct democracy voting simulation and also as if they were real US citizens voting in our representative democracy,” says fourth grade teacher Elizabeth Highgas.” The students participated in meaningful conversations comparing the two voting systems and were amazed at how far the system of democracy has come. As a teacher, seeing their passion for how important it is to have a voice is extraordinary.”
Additionally, using the debate about the recent water ban on the North Shore and whether or not well owners should be made to follow it, fourth graders were able to vote twice, both as Greeks and as 21st century Americans.
As a part of the fifth grade beekeeping unit, students in Grade 5 investigated the proposed regulations on neonicitanoid pesticides used near blooming plants to better protect our pollinators and prevent colony collapse of honeybees. After much research and a Town Hall Meeting, both sides of the issue were presented.
“It was incredible to watch the students develop ownership over one side of the issue but then remain open to hearing their peers’ point of view on the other side,” says fifth grade teacher Liz Buchan. “At one point in the conversation, a fifth grader exclaimed after hearing the nuances of the two sides, ‘So, we’re all pro-bees!’ What a revelation about the nature of these issues. We’re proud of their thoughtful work.”
In conjunction with the vote, Harbor Sweets of Salem made a delectable donation to the school of chocolates made with honey to celebrate the efforts of our fifth graders to better understand this issue. (Harbor Sweets already donates a portion of the profits from these specific chocolates to the Pollinator Partnership out of San Francisco, CA.)
When it came time to vote on the Bee Initiative, Middle School had some help from eighth graders from the Upper School Election Committee. The eighth graders were on hand to check in fourth and fifth grade voters, monitor the booths, check voters out, and finally collect the ballots. The Tinker Room/Dream Lab was transformed into the polling place, and thanks to Ms. Kelsey’s kiosk of two-color voting prints and Mrs. Geraty’s mobile flag display, everyone was in the mood to vote, and vote they did!
After tallying the ballots, it’s clear that these students care a lot about the bees, and the entire school cares about their country, community, friends and neighbors …. What could be better than that?!
– Sven Holch
Social Studies Department Coordinator