Ross School students in grades 7–12 received a comprehensive introduction to the American political system last week during Ross School’s Election Day Teach-In. In lieu of their typical classes, students were divided into groups by paired grade levels for a series of discussions and interactive learning experiences to help them better understand and synthesize the information they’d learned during the 2016 presidential race.
One of the unique challenges of such a learning experience is that Ross School’s student body has a large proportion of international boarders hailing from more than 20 countries. “When you say you’re going to host a day about U.S. civics for a school that’s 75 percent international students, that is a challenge,” said Cultural History teacher Kevin Snyder. “Although we struggled a bit with finding a baseline for our opinions, our international students were very engaged and interested in how what is happening in the United States will affect their home countries.”
“One of the benefits of holding this event at Ross is that we have students from so many different countries and of so many opinions coming together to see how their countries view the political process,” added Ben Bonaventura, acting head of the Upper School.
The day began with faculty reflections about the value of civic engagement and their own experiences with getting involved in the political process. Students were then divided into groups by paired grade levels, which cycled through a series of 45-minute workshops designed to introduce them to aspects of American government like the Supreme Court, foreign policy, the economy, and the media.
“As the new generation, it’s important for us to be aware of what is happening,” said 11th grade international student Roberta S. “Although we’re not from the U.S., this election will have a major global impact.”
In a session titled “Political Spectrum,” students learned about the wide variety of political thought in this country and used a 28-question political typology quiz created by the Pew Research Center to understand where their own beliefs fall on the continuum. In a workshop on the economy, students gained better insight into the banking industry by role-playing as bankers and loan candidates.
In support of the school’s curricular theme of the year, “Activating Future Memory,” students were asked to use what they’d learned throughout the day to predict how future elections might look, beginning four years from now and leading up to the year 2048.
“It’s important to allow students to fully express our politics, our fears, our hopes, and ourselves [in a safe and welcoming educational space],” said Dr. Robert Baum, the English teacher who devised the activity. “My hope is to model for students a way to engage political anxieties and media sensationalism in a productive way, with an eye toward the future.”
Though most of the day’s activities were focused heavily on civics more than on individual candidates’ platforms, the day closed with a mock presidential debate featuring students in the U.S. Government course. Teams representing the views of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump answered questions about topics including job creation, health care, and the environment, preparing students for a mock election to be held later in the week. In that Upper School election, Hillary Clinton received the most votes.
“No matter what your background is, it’s important to be educated about civic participation,” said Director of Academics Carrie Clark. “It’s great to get students thinking about political participation and civic life, no matter where they live.”