Our Kids are Running for Office

Although kids have to wait until they're 18 years old to vote, it's never too early for them to learn how to be active participants in democracy. In two of America's biggest cities, that's exactly what they're learning...

At the Bronx Writing Academy in the the Bronx, New York, a group of 6th grade students is part of the "Running for Office" apprenticeship, led by Citizen Schools staffer, Brian O'Neil.

The kids are learning the inner workings of a political campaign. In five small groups they are charged with developing a campaign to run for president of their school for a day. Each group is made up of all the major players-- a candidate, campaign manager, marketing manager and treasurer.

All five groups are stepping up to the challenge. With a very limited budget, the treasurers have to decide how to spend the money-- on brochures, polling, television commercials, etc. The marketing managers have to come up with the catchiest slogan and campaign theme. The candidates are busy practicing the most compelling, professional speeches, while the campaign managers are keeping everyone organized and paying close attention to the student polls. And they're doing all that in only 90 minutes per week!

At the end of the apprenticeship, the students will experience exactly what America's candidates are going through now. First, they'll run in the "primaries" where a group of political professionals will give select their top candidates. Then, the big day comes when each candidate will run for office in front of the most intimidating audience of all-- their peers.

Over in Chicago, Illinois, a group of sixth and seventh grade students at Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academic Center are participating in a "Political Analysis" apprenticeship. They're diving right into the upcoming 2012 national presidential race.

The students are learning everything about the presidential election process-- from what it means to be a "swing state," to the role of the media, to how to analyze election projections and results. The biggest hit in the class so far has been the creation of the class Twitter handle, to send messages and questions to the candidates. Follow them @CCapprentice.

The kids have already learned something a lot of adult Americans don't even know! They held a popular vote and an electoral college- style vote to see just how different the results can be.

Callie Kozlak, Citizen Schools staff member and lead volunteer, is proud of the growth she's seen in the kids already. She said, "As we talk about the election and each candidate's platform, the students are thoughtfully making connections to their own lives and what type of impact national issues have on their communities."

At the end of the semester, the students will act as political pundits on their own news show to provide an analysis of the election's results. Stay tuned!

"Voting and learning about our democracy is empowering for youth. I want kids who come from traditionally underrepresented communities in our democracy to realize that this is one route for them to have an impact and a voice on important issues impacting their community. We need leaders to do this type of work and it's up to people like them to do it," Brian said. We know our students can be those leaders.

Our kids have a lot of presidential elections ahead of them. As active citizens in their democracy, we just might see one of them in office some day.