by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER
Aurora -- If the U.S. presidential election had been conducted only at Leighton School, the winner would be Mitt Romney, who defeated Barack Obama, 376-312.
But the electoral college vote count was closer -- 270 to 268.
It was a good lesson for students in how the electoral college voting process works, which was one of the goals of Leighton fifth-grade teachers Melisa Carlson and Ted Linden when they brainstormed the idea of a mock election.
"The election is a wonderful process for our students to talk about," Carlson said. "The students are really into it."
"You can't get much closer than that," Linden said, while Carlson said she liked the way the election process unified the school.
"Everybody was interested in who their classroom was representing and how many electoral votes they had," she said.
There were 609 Leighton students in grades 3 to 5, plus 79 staff members, who voted on Nov. 2. The votes were counted that afternoon, and the winner was announced Nov. 5.
The school's election process, which was supported by Superintendent Russ Bennett, Principal Dana Lambacher and the parent-teacher organization, was detailed.
All rooms at the school, along with the Board of Education office and transportation department, were assigned a state.
Lexie Mehallis, an eighth-grader at Harmon School and daughter of Leighton PTO mom Debbie Mehallis, drew outlines of each of the 50 states on posterboards with the name written at the top.
ON EACH poster, students listed large cities and important facts, plus the number of electoral votes.
The Ohio poster, for example, displayed photos of astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was born in Wapakoneta, and Ohio State football players, along with logos of the Cleveland Browns, Indians and Cavaliers, and the fact the state has 18 electoral votes.
Facts from other state posters included that Michelle Obama was born in Illinois, comedian Bud Abbott was born in New Jersey, baseball pitcher Dave McNally was born in Montana and basketball star Larry Bird played in Indiana.
Librarian Jen Kinkoph helped students do research on their state using websites, books, maps and encyclopedias.
"We focused heavily on research," she said. "I called it 'the 50 states project.' There was immediate feedback because the students got to see their posters hung up.
"We learned all kinds of things," she added. "We learned Michigan has a floating post office. That sparked discussion. How do people get their mail?"
Debbie Mehallis created display tables for Obama and Romney with photos of the presidential and vice presidential candidates, pictures of donkeys and elephants representing the two parties and balloons.
"After Debbie put up the displays, the fifth-graders buzzed about Obama vs. Romney," Carlson said. "That's all they were talking about. It was great to hear their enthusiasm."
THERE WERE 16 fifth-graders who gave speeches -- eight for Obama and eight for Romney.
"We tried to give them some real information," Carlson said. "Speeches were two to three minutes each. They talked about character traits, skills and stands on issues."
"I talked about what Romney's plan was," fifth-grader Jack Deptola said. "I enjoyed debating. I thought that was cool."
Fifth-grader Colin Krupinski, who represented Obama, said, "I said, 'If you vote for me [Obama], we can help make this country strong.'"
"I always wanted to be someone who was not in the crowd," fifth-grader Cassandra Nguyen said. "This was an amazing experience."
"I was glad to be a part of this process," fifth-grader Mary Novak said. "The speakers were really good. It was hard to choose one."
Ballots were made with a label for each student to place his or her vote. Students were given copies of a U.S. map so they could color in the electoral votes and printed information about both candidates.
Students were encouraged to wear red, white and blue clothing on the mock election day. They were given "I voted today" stickers from the Portage County Board of Elections.
"We talked about what it means to be a citizen," Carlson said.
Votes were certified by Carlson, Linde and their colleagues Keri Stoyle and Janet Kempe.
Kinkoph said it is unfortunate that the presidential election occurs only once every four years.
"Everyone in our building is learning about the election, the electoral process and our country," she said. "We can't do it again next year. I wish we could."
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