Meade High School to host candidate debate

About 200 of Meade High School's 450 seniors will be eligible to vote in next month's state and local elections, meaning that for the first time they will help decide which leaders govern their communities. On Wednesday, some at the Fort Meade school will have an opportunity to learn about the electoral process up close before going to the ballot box.

Nearly 400 Meade students from all classes will take part in a student-hosted debate involving three candidates running for Anne Arundel county executive — Republican incumbent John R. Leopold, Democratic candidate Joanna Conti and Green Party candidate Mike Shay.

The 90-minute event will be produced and moderated mostly by Meade students, and it will be taped for broadcast on the school system's community channel, AACPS-TV.

Anne Arundel school officials said that the instructional debate is not open to the public, but DVDs of the event will be made available for classroom discussion at all Anne Arundel high schools and to other schools by request.

The debate is another accolade for a school listed among the top high schools in the nation, according to Newsweek magazine. As the debate nears, school officials have discussed with students how they will get to see firsthand the way government works.

"We've talked to them about what kind of impact their decisions could have on them three or four years from now," said Meade Principal Daryl Kennedy. He said the debate is generating interest from not only 18-year-olds, but students who are 17 and will turn 18 right before the election.

The debate was initiated by the Anne Arundel branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and members of the Meade High School PTSA. The NAACP will conduct a voter registration drive at the program.

And Meade's assistant principal Jacqueline Jones, who has worked closely with the students on the event, said that students are already getting involved in the electoral process. They've conducted voter registrations during lunch periods and registered about three dozen students. She added that the students will be formulating questions for the candidates.

"They talk about how the county executive is impacting their lives," Jones said. "There is [the issue of] slots, housing, education. Some of the students talked about the Chesapeake Bay. Even though it's just the county executives, the students still have an idea that the things elected officials do have something to do with their lives and their communities."

Kennedy said that Meade High teachers are making certain that lessons taught during classes are intertwined with the voting process. After the debate, students will have an opportunity to discuss how and why it unfolded as it did, Jones said.

The debate comes just two years after the 2008 presidential election, which got students of all ages interested in the electoral process. Jones said that the students' desire to get involved with the local debate is a byproduct of the presidential election. In the Fort Meade area, that election had middle school students and elementary school students wishing they could vote, she said.

"That was very exciting," said Kennedy. "It was a situation where kids really felt that they were part of a process. They felt that they could probably relate to it, and I'm not just talking about President Obama.

"Something energized them that was very, very real. And this is doing the same thing," Kennedy added. "When we start making our announcements about it, you have people who will go to Ms. Jones about what's happening, ask a lot of questions and give thought to what's happening."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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