Starting young, voting for change

K-Kids Club elections win school students over to the democratic process

Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008

Click here to enlarge this photo
Staff photos by REID SILVERMAN
Presidential hopeful, fifth-grader DeAundra Green, center, reads her nomination speech as competing candidates, fourth-graders Viviana Buentello, left, and Kevin Harris look on during Kiwanis K-Kids election at Lexington Park Elementary School last week.

Click here to enlarge this photo
Third-grader Tyriq Green, left, fifth-grader Jessie Isom and second-grader Kierra Fenwick add their votes along with others as Jay Massey, not pictured, of the St. Mary's County Circle K Club holds the ballot box steady.


Two weeks before the country's presidential election, some elementary school students in St. Mary's County exerted their own voting rights.

The K-Kids Club at Lexington Park Elementary School held its annual officers election Oct. 21. This youth group, which is sponsored by St. Mary's Kiwanis and partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, is designed to encourage students to take active leadership roles in the community. Club elections further this goal by simulating adult leadership opportunities.

So, on Tuesday afternoon last week, Lexington Park Elementary School's small cafeteria was filled with about 80 children, all of them Lexington Park Elementary students. After a few rounds of the "thumbs up, cheeks out" method of getting the children to quiet down, the children settled into their seats; with the brisk chime of a bell, the meeting began. The students opened the meeting with the K-Kids pledge: "I will try to make the world a better place in which to live in." This mantra serves as the foundation of the club and the platform upon which these young candidates will run.

Before the campaigning began, Glynnis Schmidt, the head organizer of the event, explained the electoral process to the students. "Here's how you know who to vote for: [The candidates] will give speeches about why they think they should be elected." She also outlined the students' rights as voters. "You all decide," she told them. "Everybody's vote counts."

In an earlier conversation, Schmidt related this process to the national election. "Kiwanis is kind of the same thing," she said. "You have to pick your leaders."

The overwhelming buzz of conversation indicated the eagerness of the club members to proceed with the election. Five students filed to the front of the room, hoping to secure the presidential office. Viviana Buentello, Derrick Green, DeAundra Green, Kayla Welch and Neyvn Harris introduced themselves to their audience, then proceeded to explain their motives and desires for the top job.

"I would be happy to help those who are in need," Buentello explained, reflecting the service-oriented spirit of Kiwanis.

DeAundra Green showed a similar commitment to creating new leadership opportunities for her peers. "I will do my best…to do more educational things," Green said. "I will set up teams in each grade to have fundraising competitions." Green promised to establish an "open door policy" that would encourage and accept input from her fellow club members.

After all the presidential candidates had spoken, a contingent of volunteers from the St. Mary's College Circle K Club, the college equivalent of K-Kids Club, handed out colorful ballots to the voters. The students swarmed around the ballot box — a shoebox covered in white paper and decorated with patriotic motifs — to submit their votes.

While some of the college students and two Kiwanis members tallied the presidential votes, the candidates for secretary — Rose Capro, Megan Welch, and Danielle Wenk — gave their speeches. "I want to help keep track of your ideas so we can help our school and community," Capro said.

New ballots were distributed, marked, and then collected. The process was repeated for the students running for treasurer — Eugene Barnes, Ayana Shorter, and Sean O'Roark.

After a brief break in which the children were sent to the playground to expend their pent-up energy, the results were presented. Sean O'Roark was elected treasurer; Rose Capro was elected secretary; Kayla Welch was elected sergeant-at-arms, or second-runner-up in the presidential race; DeAundra Green was elected vice president, or runner-up in the presidential race; and Viviana Buentello was elected president. Cheers rose up from the children as their new officers adjourned the meeting.

"I love it," Bob Owen, president of St. Mary's Kiwanis, said of the students' response to the electoral process, as he watched the election process.

Sam Bakley, a new member of the organization, was equally pleased. A retired police officer, Bakley said, "I've seen enough [kids] go the wrong way and I want to see them do the right thing instead."