Emily Sandford isn't old enough to vote, but she realizes the importance of the presidential election.
On Thursday, the 16-year-old junior at Glenelg Country School stood before the student body and argued the ideological positions of the Democratic Party, while another student argued in favor of the Republican Party. The matchup was part of an event intended to bring attention to the election.
Glenelg Country isn't alone. Several county schools have organized similar debates, as well as mock elections, in line with the historic race between Barack Obama and John McCain that culminates Nov. 4.
Sandford said the election has created considerable buzz among classmates.
"I was here at this school in 2004, and I didn't hear nearly as much talk," she said. "Everyone has an opinion. There are a lot of issues that are really important to teens - the war, global warming. Even though we can't vote, we're involved."
Students of all ages are getting in on the act.
At Running Brook Elementary in Columbia, students are preparing for a mock election on Wednesday. The vote will be done electronically on 10 laptops designated as polling stations. Students will vote for president and a few other "fun" school-related items, according to organizer Eric Soskil, the school's instructional technology teacher.
Soskil made voter ID cards with each student's name and picture to add another authentic touch. Students have been encouraged to dress in red, white and blue during the election.
The election is a way to teach students about the importance of voting and participating in the democratic process, said Soskil, who has organized similar elections at other schools.
"The instructional focus is on citizenship and leadership," he said.
Students in kindergarten through second grade have worked on assignments that ask them to describe how they can be good citizens. They also watched a short video about citizenship and discussed how the president is one of the most important citizens in the world. In grades three through five, the students completed a poster project titled "Vote For Me For President." Some of the promises on the posters included: improving medicines, increasing recycling programs and hiring more teachers.
"Students are aware that adults are going to be voting and there is so much media coverage that a mock election provides them with a greater sense of connection to what is happening nationally," Soskil said. "It is difficult to sometimes get elementary students to think beyond themselves, and a national election provides a concrete connection for students."
At Longfellow Elementary in Columbia, a small group of Gifted-and-Talented Program fifth-graders are organizing a mock election for the school Thursday. The 11 students have been studying the election process and the candidates, said Joan Tellish, the GT resource teacher at the school.
A speaker from the Howard County League of Women Voters visited and talked about the Electoral College and voting rights, Tellish said.
The students also prepared short speeches about each candidate's stance on issues such has health care, education and the economy.
Tellish's classroom will be transformed into the official voting station. The students will check in at a table, receive a ballot, cast their vote and drop it into a ballot box, she said.
"There will be patriotic music playing, and the room will be decorated in an American theme," Tellish said. "The students will be supervised by a staff member and will count the ballots, and the results will be announced at the end of the day."
At Swansfield Elementary, a group of fifth-graders is running a schoolwide election Thursday. Students and staff members had to register for the vote during a two-week period. This year, the school's results will be linked to a national tally organized by parents and schools.
The students running the Swansfield election learned about the national election, the candidates and the voting process shortly before embarking on the challenge, according to Megan Icenogle, the school's GT resource teacher.
"It should be a very exciting day," Icenogle said. "And the run-up has been wonderful."