Elk Grove students watch debate before mock election

Teens at Elk Grove High say they're invested in political process

Posted10/20/2016 5:30 AM

This is the first election in which Michael Pauls will be able to vote, but the Elk Grove High School senior said this campaign has been a disappointing one for young people to watch.

Pauls and about 50 other Elk Grove High School students gathered in the school's auditorium to watch Wednesday night's third presidential debate in advance of a schoolwide mock election to be held today.

"This campaign has been absolutely awful," Pauls said. "It's been hard to get an idea of what the candidates think on substantive issues and it's very hard, unbearable, to watch sometimes."

If anything, the behavior and language from the candidates have sometimes been "an example of what not to do," he said.

So, with a campaign that has been decidedly negative from both sides, Matt Bohnenkamp, social science teacher and debate team coach, said talking about it in the classroom can also be a challenge. He starts each class talking about current events of the day, which often revolve around the election.

"It's hard not to make kids cynical when cynicism is all that's talked about," Bohnenkamp said. "This is different from any election I've taught. The two sides are so, passionate, to say it politely, but as the teacher we have to stay neutral."

It can be difficult at a school like Elk Grove, where 39 percent of students are Hispanic and Donald Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants can get heated. Bohnenkamp said teachers try to give students reliable sources of information and a space to discuss the issues.

Senior Layan Safi said the election hasn't been all bad because at least it has gotten students talking.

"It has drawn a lot of people into politics who would not have been interested in the first place," she said.

Senior Ray Solorzano agreed. "It hasn't been positive, but I've learned so much more about the process," he said.

Solorzano said that he now plans to major in political science in college because he wants to get involved in the political process.

Several students said the idea that young people don't care about politics or aren't paying attention to this election is wrong.

"Voting is a civic duty," Pauls said.

Solorzano added, "Young people have to be involved. All of these issues are going to affect us for the longest."

Several other District 214 high schools have held mock elections this month to get students, even those who are not yet 18, involved in the election process.

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