Democracy Scholars: Students Serve at the Polls on Election Day

With the rest of our nation, Parker students are closely following the results of Election Day: analyzing, discussing, writing in and out of classes. They are considering questions of democracy and voice with heightened awareness of the impact of words, their own and others. Students are listening carefully, showing one another respect and speaking up for people who are targeted by racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism.

For Parker students, the experience of Election Day was not only about who won the presidency and more local offices; it was also about direct engagement in participatory democracy. On November 8, from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., 30 Parker juniors and seniors, mostly students in Andy Bigelow’s Upper School Elections class, helped steward the democratic process, participating not only as voters but as election jJudges, election monitors and campaign volunteers.

At the polls, students sat as Republican or Democratic judges, working side by side with adult Republican and Democratic judges. They maintained safe and respectful voting processes, handling long lines, the occasional missing equipment and plenty of good neighborhood spirit, with grace and resourcefulness.

Parker students were part of a force of 1,600 Chicago students serving as election judges, through the Mikva Challenge. As Elections in Action Director Meghan Goldenstein emphasized in a Tribune article, “It’s rare that students are given an opportunity for leadership on this scale with authentic consequences. They are protecting and empowering people to cast real votes.”

After Election Day, the directors of the Mikva Challenge shared a statement that emphasized the critical importance of education for citizenship, now and always:

What gives us hope in challenging times are the words and actions of our young people. All across the country in 35 cities, Mikva youth are giving speeches on how they want to improve their world. They focus on issues like sexual violence, immigration, youth civic participation, LGBTQ bullying, and equal opportunity. They are modeling the thoughtful, researched and empathetic discourse we need to demand from all of our public officials today. Following a presidential election campaign full of divisiveness, the need to open up our democratic process to more young people is more urgent than ever. We need to build empathy and channel the anger and disillusionment that we feel, and that our young people are experiencing, into building a stronger democracy.

With other Mikva youth and young people across the country, Parker students are taking seriously their responsibility as active, brave and empathetic community members. They are growing as civic leaders; stay tuned to learn about what they are working on!

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