HOLLYWOOD, FLA. (WSVN) - They may not be old enough to vote, but fifth-graders at a South Florida school got a hands-on lesson on democracy as they prepare to cast their ballot on an important issue.
The environment and politics are two subjects that came together for the fifth-grade students at Orange Brook Elementary School in Hollywood.
It all started when their teacher, Monika Moorman, drew the attention about an upcoming change to the campus concerning two trees that sit next to the school’s sign. “She told us that the trees were going to be cut or trimmed a little bit, so that we could put in a new electric marquee board,” said student Kenneth Pace.
The school’s principal, Devon O’Neal explained why the trees needed to be either removed or trimmed down. “As you can see, there are two trees right here that are kind of obstructing the view where we want to put the marquee,” he said.
But before the tree trimmers could arrive, O’Neal quickly realized his idea didn’t sit well with Ms. Moorman’s class. “Those trees have been there for, like, for a lot of years, since my dad was at the school,” said Pace. “I don’t want them to be cut down. They’re really like history to us.”
“It also means a lot to me, because trees give us oxygen, and if you cut down the trees, it’s wasting two lives,” said student Nevaeh Rankin.
So Moorman turned her students’ clear passion into a project. “They decided to research it, and they wrote persuasive essays hoping that a different solution may be found,” she said.
The essays were presented to O’Neal, and then the students took things even further: They practiced their First Amendment rights holding a peaceful protest to voice their concerns.
Standing in front of the trees, they chanted, “Don’t cut the trees just for a marquee,” over and over.
O’Neal then came up with a solution he deemed fair.
“We are going to have an election or a vote,” said student Emalee Bruns.
“I was truly inspired by this movement, and touched by the outpouring from my students,” he said. “I decided to put it to a referendum vote.”
But not just any vote. “The supervisor of elections, I shared with her what we wanted to do here at Orange Brook, with regards to the referendum vote on the marquee, and she decided to sponsor the entire event, which I was shocked about” said O’Neal.
The principal said the local official will be going to extra mile to ensure his students experience what taking part in an election feels like. “On April 28th, the Supervisor of Elections Department is going to provide us with the actual voting booths, the counting machines, the actual ‘I voted’ stickers, the ‘vote here’ signs,” he said. “They’re gonna go full-fledged, completely all out.”
Now the third to fifth-grade classes at the school are preparing to head to the polls for a final decision over the fate of these trees and a marquee.
But the lesson here branches far beyond that. “Whenever I wanna do a protest, I have the right,” said Pace.
“As a result, I believe they learned the importance of freedom of expression, of participation and of the power of voting,” said Moorman.
The mock election is set to take place on Friday.
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