Local teachers find new lessons in controversial election

By Erin Brookshier - Virginia Today Reporter

SALEMĀ (WSLS10)-- In one week, Americans head to the polls to vote for our next president. It's a campaign that's been filled with insults and arguments at debates and out on the campaign trail.

Now, many teachers are facing a new and especially difficult challenge-- teaching young students about an election that's unlike any we've seen before. Some are taking the election head-on while others have decided not to get into the more controversial topics, instead teaching the process behind presidential elections and leaving the controversial issues alone.

Corbitt Hairston, an Andrew Lewis Middle School Teacher, is using the election as a way to further the discussion about character and what it means to be a good citizen and a good person. The positive examples and role models have been few and far between in this election cycle, but he takes every chance he gets to point them out.

As far as talking about specific candidates and issues-- he wants his sixth grade history students to make their own decisions.

"If students want to ask me, 'What did you think about the debate?' I will tell them, 'I watched the debate. It was interesting,'" says Hairston. "You want them to understand this is the greatest country in the world and we have this thing called a peaceful transfer of power. But you have candidates, not just the candidates, but a country that has become so polarized during this election."

He says social media has also played a much bigger role in this election than in years past, with opinion pieces being posted as facts and news articles. That's something else he has been working to teach his students-- how to determine whether a story or article they see is based in fact and where to find legitimate, trustworthy sources for information.

Meanwhile, students at Franklin County High School are takingĀ a different direction, diving right into the issues as they prepare for a mock election on Wednesday.

Reyhan Deskins has been teaching for more than fifteen years and the Franklin County High School teacher says this election isn't just changing the way he's teaching his seniors, but also how the students themselves are reacting the the election.

"This election, the students are actually more excited than in years past," he says. "This is the first year I've had students actually want to watch the debates. I come in and ask, 'How many people watched the debate?' Boom. Hands are going up. So it's provided a lot of opportunities to communicate with each other about the issues."

Those issues will be put to the test this week, as students head to the polls for their own mock election. It's set up just like the real thing-- where students have been responsible for registering themselves and will find their own time to vote, instead of being forced to vote in an assigned class.

For students like Anna Hudson, who is not old enough to vote on Tuesday, this mock election holds special meaning.

"It makes people feel like their voice will still be heard in some way," she says. "They actually care about watching and listening to what's going on with the real election."

Whether results of Franklin County High School's election mirror the real election or take on a life of their own remains to be seen. For these students, it's a lesson on elections and political involvement that teachers hope will carry over into adulthood.

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