John Paul II students hold election to decide how to serve
by Jessica Langdon
OVERLAND PARK — One by one, the voters approached the polls seriously on Election Day, each knowing his or her vote could impact the outcome of an election destined to affect their future.
A tight race between “Cupcakes” and “Valentines.” Both had their selling points — especially in the way they would ultimately help others — but only one could be declared the winner.
The students at John Paul II School in Overland Park still have to wait at least a few years before their votes can help send a candidate to Washington or place someone in a position of state or local power.
But that didn’t stop them from casting ballots in an important election of their own on Nov. 6.
The students selected by secret ballot the service project they’ll complete in early 2013.
“They get to see their parents going and voting today and hear all about the election, so it makes them feel like they have a say,” said student council president Emily Brady. “At John Paul, we involve the students. We think the students should be extremely involved, because this is their school year.”
Just one issue appeared on the ballot: Whether students in February would hold a cupcake-decorating contest to raise money for a Catholic charity — or get together with their “families” of students from each grade to make Valentine’s Day cards for seniors in nursing homes.
‘For the benefit of others’
Classes reviewed sample ballots ahead of time. Some students even unofficially campaigned for the cause they thought the coolest.
The voting dovetailed with social studies lessons about the American political process — even delving into the Electoral College in middle school.
This school-wide election didn’t call for anything quite that complex.
The ballots made it easy for even the youngest voters to have their say when they walked into the voting area in the gym.
They simply circled, in crayon, the picture — designed by student council treasurer Megan Schulte — of the service option they’d most like to do.
Student council religious affairs director Mya King liked seeing the political process at work in her school.
“It will give them an experience to know what voting is like when it actually comes time to vote,” Mya said.
It also gave students the chance to think through what would be best for themselves, as well as for other people.
“It’s for the benefit of others,” agreed student council secretary Emily Matos. “Community is like your family, too.”
Some young voters took no time circling their choice, while others weighed the options for a while. A few even made their decision by the eenie- meenie method.
Then they dropped their completed forms in the red, white and blue ballot boxes.
Student council vice president Sarah Gress noticed how excited the younger students were to accept their sticker — a red circle — once they had voted, but she believes they’ll walk away with a good feeling that will last much longer.
“I think they’ll be excited for the project that we’re going to do,” she said.
Lessons for the future
The student council members who envisioned and organized the election impressed science teacher and council moderator Mary Anne Brown.
When the council officers brainstormed ideas for the year, they knew early November brought Election Day and developed the plan for their own election, with faith and service at its heart.
This project served as just one example to Brown of the creative, engaged student body at this school.
She hopes all students will remember several lessons from their election — and maybe even volunteer as poll workers or in other election roles in the future.
“It is important for each person to vote, and the secret ballot gives them the opportunity to vote how they feel and not succumb to peer pressure,” said Brown.
“And every person counts — every vote counts,” she continued.
It also, Emily Brady added, instills in the students now an important idea that will serve them years down the road.
“Voting is an important thing to do as an American,” she said.
“Today they’re wearing the little red circle on their shirt that says they voted for the StuCo project,” she said. “But tomorrow they’ll be wearing an ‘I voted’ sticker as an adult. We certainly hope that happens.”
All ballots were cast by late morning, and then the school office tallied the votes.
Unlike in some heated neck-and-neck political races, there was no prolonged wait to learn the results, nor any need for recounts.
At John Paul II School, the students had spoken, and the majority chose to decorate cupcakes. So, the school has that project to look forward to.
And they all knew that in the end, no matter which way this election went, everybody won because their project will bring a lot of smiles to people in their community in just a few months.
“It’s exciting to have a choice,” said Megan.