Campaign posters covered the walls, candidates answered questions in an open debate and constituents spent hours researching the issues. If you didn't know better, you'd think the students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School could vote.
The posters, speeches and research are all part of an effort to get students more involved in the election process and inspire them to vote when they're old enough.
"What we are doing as educators is planting seeds," said Jamie Marks, a social studies and language arts teacher at Dzantik'i Heeni.
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Former students have told him they got interested in politics because of what teachers did in middle school.
"I think it's something that people thought about years later," Marks said.
On Monday, students asked a panel of five candidates in the Nov. 7 general election a series of questions. Incumbent Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, and his Republican challenger Mac Meiners were present, along with Randy Wanamaker and Andrea Doll, competing for the House District 4 seat, and Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Kerttula is running uncontested in District 3.
About a hundred students attended the debate in the school's library. They gave the politicians plenty of applause, but the biggest ovation was for one of their own. Sven Savland, an eighth-grader, asked the candidates what they intended to do about Alaska's high school dropout rate.
About 40 percent of students in Alaska leave school before graduating. Responses to Savland's question varied from candidate to candidate, but the students cheered when Republican state Senate candidate Meiners told them that schools needed more vocational education and hands-on training.
"Make school fun and give (students) something they can get life skills from," Meiners said.
Other students asked questions about Ballot Measure 2, which would tax lease holders until a natural gas pipeline is built; the high cost of living in Juneau and the difficulties of getting elected to public office.
Jordan Lopez, another eighth-grader, said the most important question for him was about the cost of living.
"I know a lot of kids are in the dark as to how much things cost for their parents, but I'm not," he said.
Several students said they thought the forum was cool. But sorting through all the talk to pick a candidate didn't sound easy.
"I agreed pretty much with all their ideas," Savland said.
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