Children First: Getting your kids interested in politics - KOTA Territory News

Children First: Getting your kids interested in politics

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9th grade teacher Tamara Klein says when it comes to politics, many students have a similar reaction.

"Boy, you bring up the word politics and it's 'Ugh!  Bunch of government crooks!'  They're just not into it," Klein said.

Even in a major campaign year, in the thick of political primaries, she says many young people find it hard to relate.

"They don't see it as them having any control over it," Klein said.  "They're more interested in those things they do have control of, like what they're going to do on a Friday night."

But in her passionate search for a way to empower her students at Lincoln Academy in Rapid City, she made a discovery.

"I found Project Vote Smart!" Klein said.

Project Vote Smart is a non-partisan, privately funded, interactive website based in Montana that features research done primarily by volunteers.  That website, Klein says, is now her number one tool in the classroom.

"Introducing students to politics, the best resource is not our textbook.  The best resource is the media of choice for them and that's the Internet," Klein said.

On the website, students in Ms. Klein's class research the issues and candidates' voting records.  They can even take a quiz to learn which candidate most matches their values.  That description only scratches the surface of what the website provides.

Klein encourages her students to then use that research to evaluate what they see on television and to spark some healthy debate.

"I love it when there's an argument in the classroom!" Klein said.

Finally, students follow through thanks to a program called Kids Voting South Dakota.

"They actually vote for the candidates by the time it comes for an election," Klein said.

The kids vote is facilitated in Rapid City by the Chiesman Center for Democracy which also offers programs like "We the People," "Youth Congress," and "Project Citizen."

"That's what we're trying to instill at a young age: How can you participate?  How can your voice by heard?" Civic Education Director Rebecca Andrew said.

Andrew said the hands-on education is having a ripple effect.

"What we see a lot of time is the kids are encouraging the parents to go out and vote," Andrew said.

And Klein says that's one of her goals: that kids inspire the parents so the whole family is more involved and more informed.

"If they can use that website (Project Vote Smart) it opens so many topics of discussion," Klein said.  "Do it!  Compare!  You can get your kids to say, 'Look at this! Come here!'"

Then, that means politics, that word that students once had trouble relating to, is now a tangible part of daily life.

"We've already talked about that in class," Klein said.  "I tell them, you may be living in history!"

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To log on to Project Vote Smart just go to votesmart.org

For more information on the programs offered through Rapid City's Chiesman Center for Democracy, you may call (605) 341-4311 or visit them online at chiesman.org

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