Just a week before the presidential election, some local students are seeing what it’s like to be on the campaign trail and in the hot seat.
Fourteen students at Damascus Middle School are running for office. But it’s not your typical campaign. "We’ve done a lot of research and we've been into politics more in the past few weeks than ever in our life,” said Leah Cullop, a 7th grader running for Vice President. “There’s a lot of different views and that’s what I think makes everybody so unique. It is fun seeing where everyone stands on the different issues.”
Leah and her twin sister, Lindsey, are one of seven teams running for President and Vice President at the school. The 12-year-olds have been learning about the same campaign issues that President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are facing. "It’s the first time our students have thought about the campaign issues and had to form their own opinions,” said Rhonda Mossholder, a teacher at DMS. “It’s created a lot of conversation and diversity when they realize they have different opinions on these issues.”
Those issues included immigration, the war in Iraq, gun control, the death penalty, education, healthcare and social networking. "These topics will greatly influence our way of life. It is very important that we debate these issues.” said Diana Schmidt, a 7th grader running for Vice President. “This has been a very beneficial experience for the students here because we get to learn about issues and problems that our country is facing.”
The duo teams held a mock debate Wednesday, which was moderated by Virginia Delegate Israel O’Quinn. He said this type of exercise in democracy is crucial to get young voters involved and interested in politics at an early age. "The opinions you see in the forum are very well thought out. The answers are certainly going to be ideas that will carry them into their political futures,” O’Quinn said.
And their political futures seem brighter in 2018 when the 7th graders will be old enough to cast a ballot. "I’m so excited to be 18 now so I can vote. Since I'm 12 and have learned so much about politics, I can't wait to vote,” said Lindsey Cullop.
The candidates’ peers cast their votes after the debate to decide who will be on the final ballot. There will be a pair from the Republican, Democratic and Independent parties.
The election will be Monday.