COLUMBIA — Oakland Junior High School ninth-grade honors students could give political pundits a run for their money.
Talking with Melissa Beutenmiller and Stuart Spradling, one would think they had spent hours discussing political policies with Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. They haven't missed a debate. They can tell you all about Obama's health care, tax and economy plans. The Oakland students talked policy with visitors at the school's political convention Wednesday morning much like politicians themselves — with firm handshakes, big smiles and Obama pamphlets.
The convention was planned by Josh Johnson and Danny Gammon, teachers in the ninth-grade honors block classes, and was put on by about 50 of their students from the English and social studies classes. The students were introduced to the project in early September and were assigned one of 28 political candidates for local, state and national elections.
The work wasn't easy. Students had to interview the candidate or a representative from the candidate's campaign. Each student made pamphlets and posters, wrote feature and opinion news articles and delivered a speech as if he or she were the candidate. More than 400 parents, teachers, candidates and community members attended. This is the third political convention since 2000 and the best yet, Johnson said.
"Mostly, everyone here is getting A's," he said. "It's been amazing."
Johnson said that if he knew a student was partial to a political party, he tried to assign him or her a candidate outside of that party so that the student could see all sides.
His tactic worked for student Paige McCumber, who was assigned Republican state treasurer candidate and state Sen.Brad Lager. McCumber said she learned Lager stresses education and understands the hardships of small-business owners because he is one himself.
"I was a hardcore Democrat before this," she said, "but I saw (Republican) views had points, too."
Student Ian McCann, who was assigned vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said the project only confirmed his beliefs.
"At first I liked Obama because of my parents," he said, "but now I'm supporting Obama for me."
McCann, who was wearing an Obama sticker on his necktie, said the competition has been heating up at school but that it's been healthy competition.
Julia Young, mother of Nicholas Young, a ninth grader who took part in the event, attended the convention. Julia Young said politics is already a popular subject in her household, but she will not let one of her children miss out on this class project.
"This is the No. 1 class that they take throughout high school, as far as teaching (writing), critical thinking and about their government," she said.
Beutenmiller, 15, said it was exciting to see everything they had been working so hard on come together.
"If you don't learn now, you won't know what to do when you can vote," Beutenmiller said. She also said she's excited to be an informed voter in the 2012 election, which will be the first election in which these young citizens will be able to vote.
Candidates who attended the event included:
- Governor: Libertarian Andrew W. Finkenstadt
- 9th Congressional District: Democrat Judy Baker
- State senator, 19th District: Republican Kurt Schaefer and Democrat Chuck Graham
- State representative, 21st District: Democrat Kelly Schultz
- State representative, 23rd District: Democrat Stephen Webber
- State representative, 24th District: Republican Ed Robb and Democrat Chris Kelly
- State representative, 25th District: Democrat Mary Still
Representatives for Republican attorney general candidate Mike Gibbons, Republican 9th Congressional District candidate Blaine Luetkeymeyer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon also attended the school event.