Debate turns students into politicans, all before recess

Fourth grade students from Cicero and Roxborough elementary schools played politicians for a day last week at "The Great Debate 2006," cheered on by an audience full of district parents, faculty, and local politicians.

The event, which saw students from both elementary schools become everything from door greeters to campaign managers, simulated a mock debate between the two candidates for governor this fall, Elliot Spitzer, played by Chris Shcneid, and John Faso, played by Cole Parzyach.

The two candidates fielded questions from a pack of student media and discussed hot-button topics such as healthcare and job growth in New York State. Other high-profile political figures were in attendance as well, including Sen. Rodham Clinton, played by Emilee Norris, and Gov. George Pataki, played Michael Shroeder.

Bob Crabtree, a fourth grade teacher at Cicero Elementary and chief coordinator of "The Great Debate" since 1988, said the event is conveniently tied to the importance of voting, a major unit for fourth grade social studies.

"We did units on 9/11, voting machines, and their affects on elections," Crabtree said. "What's interesting for them is when they realized that less than 10 percent of republicans and democrats vote in primary elections. A lot of them couldn't figure out why people don't vote."

Crabtree said leading up to the debate, classes talked about the patriotic responsibility to learn about candidates, issues on the ballot, and the importance of heading out to the polls on Nov. 7.

"I'm trying to show that voting is part of being a good a American citizen," Crabtree said. "Since JFK, voting has steadily declined, except for two years ago. We're trying to teach people to keep that upward trend going."

In addition to politics, Crabtree had students study editorials, news broadcasts and other media influences on the voting process.

"We're going to run up right to Nov. 7. with this unit," he said. "It's because this is such a great part of the curriculum, too. They got to meet other students in the districts, and worked on the project together."

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