Jeanette Mendez fondly remembers voting in mock elections while she was in elementary school. In 2011, when she was head of the OSU Department of Political Science, she was disappointed to learn that her children, Gwendolyn and Elias, would not have that experience at Stillwater’s Sangre Ridge Elementary School. So, she decided to do something about it.
She reached out to the school, which gladly granted permission for one of Mendez’s classes to teach the children about elections, including facilitating a mock vote.
“I wanted to bring something I was doing at work to share with my kids,” said Mendez, now the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It was also a nice way to engage with the community, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Mendez’s classes have facilitated mock elections every two years for the Sangre Ridge students, who have voted for two U.S. presidents (2012 and 2016) and two Oklahoma governors (2014 and 2018).
On Nov. 5, the children cast 536 ballots, with Kevin Stitt beating Drew Edmondson, 55 percent to 45 percent. It was very similar to the actual statewide election results the next day, when Stitt beat Edmondson, 54 percent to 42 percent, to win the governorship.
Korbin Bauer, a multimedia journalism major and political science minor from Owasso, said working with the kids was a lot of fun.
“We went into the classrooms (Nov. 2) and presented to the kids about the importance of voting,” Bauer said. “We also gave them some of the basics about the two candidates — this is the Republican, this is the Democrat; one was a businessman, one was the attorney general; one is a lot younger, one is a lot older — things along those lines.”
Patrick Steichen, a mechanical engineering major and political science minor from Tulsa, called it “a cool opportunity to give back.”
“We see these kids excited about politics and knowing that they can be a part of the process,” Steichen said. “A big part of what we do here at OSU is fulfill our land-grant mission through community outreach.”
Steichen added, “Doing this has definitely solidified that I will be voting. If I’m going to tell a first-grader to vote, I sure as heck should vote myself.”
Sandy Crocker is a third-grade teacher and the mother of a fourth-grader, Jayden, at Sangre Ridge. She sees a lot of value in the partnership between the elementary school and the university.
“The kids learned a lot about government about the election process,” Crocker said. “A lot of them were asking how they could vote, since they aren’t 18 yet. I was impressed that they picked up on that from the lessons the previous week.”
Crocker added, “We really appreciate that OSU is willing to come into the schools and do things like this. It’s important for the kids to see students and professors from the university come in and talk about what is going on in their classes. My students thought that was pretty neat, and they always like hearing about a topic from someone who isn’t their teacher every day.”
While every Sangre Ridge student had the opportunity to vote, there were also different applied activities for the various grades, such as making campaign buttons and posters or writing about what each of the kids would do if they were elected governor. The Gifted and Talented students even participated in debates, including using perception-analyzer dials to score them.
Mendez plans to continue putting together mock elections for Sangre Ridge students in the future, even though her son will be moving on to Stillwater Middle School.
“This is a really good partnership,” Mendez said. “It’s a way we can engage with the broader community. I’d like to see us doing more with our local schools.”