'Voters of tomorrow' weigh in on 2012 election

'Voters of tomorrow' weigh in on 2012 election
Robin Graham-Hayes, left, and Jacob Sheehan, right, unveil the results of their social science class' district-wide vote for president and three of the ballot questions. They announced the results at City Neighbors Charter School. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

If 2,500 Baltimore middle school students have their way Tuesday, President Barack Obama will be re-elected, children of some illegal immigrants will pay in-state tuition rates, same-sex couples can marry and gambling in Maryland will not expand.

The results were announced Monday by the students of City Neighbors Charter School, who through a "Voters of Tomorrow" initiative conducted a mock vote in 29 city schools on key choices facing the state and country on Election Day.


The project was a culmination of social studies lessons this fall for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at City Neighbors, which included following debates, arguing different positions in class, and hearing viewpoints from figures on both sides of the issues, including Republican Del. Pat McDonough, Democratic Del. Mary Washington and the immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland.

"When presented with the issues that affected their lives, it took a life of its own," said Peter French, longtime social studies teacher at City Neighbors. "They knew it wasn't something made up, that there were real issues facing America, and they took that very seriously."

Students voted for president and three of the referendum questions Maryland residents will cast ballots for on Tuesday.

On Monday, City Neighbors students sounded off about the results.

Students cast the most ballots for president, with Obama winning 96 percent of the votes.

Sixth-grader Jacob Naquin said his vote was influenced by his parents, but he also believed that "if we pick the wrong president, a lot of things can go wrong with America, and things could fall apart."

About 67 percent of students voted in favor of Question 6, same-sex marriage, and sixth-grader Isabelle Padgett strongly agreed.

"Who are we to say you can't marry who you love?" said Isabelle. "It's America, it's a free country."

Isabelle also said she could not vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney because she believes his plans to cut funding to Public Broadcasting Service would "kill Big Bird."

About 70 percent of students voted for Question 4, the "Dream Act" that would extend in-state tuition rates to children of some illegal immigrants, though it was a divisive issue among City Neighbors students.

Sixth-grader Kai Somerville said he agreed with McDonough's stance that it would limit citizens' spots in colleges.

"I just feel it's not fair," Kai said. "Legal immigrants went through a longer process to get here, and I don't understand why [others] can't do the same thing. It's like a shortcut."

The closest race was Question 7 to expand gambling in Maryland casinos, which narrowly failed, with 51 percent of students voting against it.

"I understand that it could bring in money and boost our economy, but at the price of addiction," said sixth-grader Maeve Thistel. "I think for the sake of our community, it's just not right."


Parents said they were impressed by how students expressed their views.

"When I was growing up with all the things in the '60s — wars everywhere, presidents getting shot, civil rights — it didn't affect me one bit, I just wanted to go out and play," said Andre Weaver, whose seventh-grader Andrea participated in the vote. "It was amazing — the level of literacy was off the charts."

The students, who collected ballots and tallied results, said they underwent a transformation during the exercise in civic engagement.

"We're kids who care about these issues because they affect our future and our parents' present," said eighth-grader Khalil Reid.

An earlier version of this article misspelled sixth-grader Maeve Thistel's name. The Sun regrets the error.