Some of the I.S. 89 seventh graders who worked on the schools presidential election (L-r): Maryanne Milano, Jenny Yu, Victoria Jahn, Anna Kramer (in front), Tess Scriptunas, Bria Schirripa and Zoe Mylonas.
By Ronda Kaysen
Surprise! John Kerry won the presidential election by a landslide on the I.S. 89 playground, at least. While the rest of the countrys Kerry supporters are reeling from a staggering defeat, the Battery Park City middle school is basking in the aftermath of a sweeping and highly anticipated victory.
Kerrys always been at the top of the polls, explained Bria Schirripa, a member of the seventh grade board of elections. Nader has held steady with the same number of votes. Bush has increased slightly. Although the Electoral College was still working out its numbers at press time (each homeroom is like a state), Kerry swept the popular vote by a baffling 79 percent. George W. Bush garnered 13 percent of the votes and (are you sitting down?) Independent candidate Ralph Nader secured a respectable seven percent of the vote.
A seventh grade school project, the students divided the work of registering the schools 330 students, educating the adolescent electorate, informing undecided voters about the issues, reporting the events and, on Monday, Nov. 1, ushering the student body to the school yard polls. The seventh graders had the highest voter turnout of all: 100 percent of the student body cast their ballots. 82 percent of eighth graders and 98 percent of sixth graders turned out to vote.
We had an average amount of votes, said seventh grader Ella Smithie of the eighth grade voter turnout. In the morning it was kind of stressful setting up and we didnt end up getting as many votes then. Perched behind the eighth grade registration table, Smithie was unfazed by a particularly rowdy game of handball unfolding nearby. Well get a lot more in the afternoon, she added.
The I.S. 89 seventh graders will all be eligible to vote two presidential elections from now. And, with all the preparation for this in-house election, they will most likely be better prepared than many of their contemporaries to choose their president. A lot of adults dont know what we do, said Schirripa, her curly brown pigtails bobbing. They learned about American history and wars in school. They didnt learn about this [how an election works.]
Schirripas favorite part of the election process was a trip to NBCs Democracy Plaza at Rockefeller Center. All of the seventh graders were required on the their own time to visit the election display, which included, among other things, a map of the United States atop the ice skating rink.
For Andrea Roganovic, a seventh grade student reporter, the experience has given her a new, more mature perspective about politics. There was a time when I was eight or nine when I was obsessed with politics, she said, gripping a clipboard. As a journalist, she said, she has learned to keep her opinions closer to her vest. We have to be careful that we dont say who you are voting for, she said.
I tell people to vote for the best candidate for the issues, said Tyler Monae Walker, a member of the issues group, standing behind the seventh grade ballot box. Walkers shirt was decorated with stickers for all of the candidates. Walkers primary concern was education. Kerry, she said, was her favored candidate. He talked a lot about educations and he cared more about what kids thought about it, she said.
Zoe Mylonas, who is Greek, worries about Americas reputation in Europe. On her visits to Greece, she has noticed a strong dislike of Americans. This is the biggest election ever, she said, an American flag Band-Aid pasted on her forehead.
Forgoing lunch to get the vote out, the seventh graders were well aware of how much work is involved in an election.
We havent had lunch yet, said Sean Ostroi, who manned the seventh grade registration table. Im starving. The class normally eats lunch at 11:30 a.m. On election day, it was well past noon and the students had not stopped for lunch.
Thats dedication! said Maryanne Milano.
But on Thursday morning, after the countrys eligible voters had cast their ballots, the I.S. 89 seventh graders were much more subdued. It was a bit of a shock for all of us yesterday, said seventh grade math teacher Marc Todd, speaking to the Downtown Express from his classroom. We talked about what the president would do to address the 49 percent of voters that did not vote for him.