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Ann Arbor Open fifth, sixth graders have a passion for politics

Ann Arbor Open fifth and sixth graders color in an electoral map Tuesday night.

By Tara Cavanaugh 

On election night, Mike Derhammer’s class at Ann Arbor Open was full of fifth and sixth grade political pundits. Ethan Seelig thought Mitt Romney would win. Sam Bailey predicted Romney would win the popular vote, but Barack Obama would take the electoral college. And Eva Roth just wasn’t sure about Ohio.

Derhammer’s political junkies have been studying the presidential election for weeks and they were eager to see the results. His class held a watch party and school sleepover to watch the political process in action.

“I’m very impressed by the commentary I’ve heard tonight,” said parent Kristin Blackburn. “I’m not surprised, but it’s still really amazing to think these are fifth and sixth graders. A lot of them could probably have more sophisticated conversations than a lot of adults.”

Mike Derhammer talks with the students about the election results while his computer streams live CNN coverage.

Parent Beth Sherman noted that her daughter Emma begged to go with her to vote Tuesday. “She went through the line with me, got the mock ballot and was going through it,” Sherman said. “She’s just really involved. It’s impressive.”

Derhammer has held presidential election sleepovers (also called “lock-ins”) four times, and says the students are always excited. Although some of the enthusiasm comes from being with friends, “they’re old enough to make the connection that the election means something to them,” he said.

By election day, Derhammer’s students had compared Obama and Romney, learned about the electoral college, studied swing states and even discussed the proposals on Michigan’s ballot.

“It’s very exciting and tense,” said sixth grader Sam Bailey as the class was glued to the projector in front of the room playing CNN. “It feels like a big Michigan (football) game.” Sam kept track of Obama’s electoral votes on a chalkboard. His friend Cory tallied Romney’s.

Students tally the electoral votes gained by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Sam was in Derhammer’s class last year when the students monitored the Republican presidential primary. The students debated which candidate would be ideal to run against Obama; Sam says most picked Rick Santorum “because he was basically un-electable.”

While the night provided countless lessons in politics, students didn’t miss the bigger picture. When asked why it’s important for citizens to keep track of the political process, Eva Roth was incredulous.

“Well, it’s about ruling your country!” Eva said. “You should have some idea about what’s going to happen. Republicans have their own ideas, and Democrats have their own ideas, and the other parties, like the Green Party, they have their ideas. But you should be able to vote and know what you think should happen to this country!”

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