Regardless of whether they’re old enough to vote, about 44 Mountain Pointe High School students aren’t sitting on the sidelines for the 2018 General Election.
The Advanced Placement government students have organized a dual forum for their classmates and the general public, with plans to grill the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board and Legislative District 18 candidates.
The forum will be held 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at the Mountain Pointe High School Auditorium, 4201 E. Knox Road, Ahwatukee.
Seating begins at 5:30 p.m. for the school board forum and at 6:45 p.m. for the LD 18 forum. All three Tempe Union candidates have confirmed, and all but Republican Frank Schmuck in the LD18 candidate field have confirmed, district spokeswoman Jen Liewer said.
“In response to mass school shootings, thousands of students have protested on campuses and state capitals across the nation. AP government students from Mountain Pointe are focusing current civic engagement efforts on organizing a candidate forum for those running for office in the upcoming general election,” Liewer said.
Under the direction of longtime teacher Lane Waddell, the students have been working since school began to set up the forum, working in groups on tasks that ranged from researching issues and candidates, to inviting the hopefuls and even arranging for the free food and beverages that will be available after the forum – courtesy of Chick-fil-A, a frequent contributor to Ahwatukee nonprofit activities.
Coordinating all their efforts were two pairs of student leaders – junior Alan Dupree and senior Destiny Aleman organizing the LD18 portion, and seniors Alison Robinson and Camdon Beck on the school board candidates.
Because of the number of activities booked for the auditorium, the students couldn’t secure a convenient date to accommodate a second forum, this one for Kyrene board candidates.
The forum will run much like many others. The students have developed their own questions, but they will also take written questions from the audience that will be scrutinized by students to make sure they’re neither repetitious nor inappropriate. Candidates also will have a chance to address the audience directly.
The students are so jazzed about their plans that they have not only been circulating flyers around school but also in neighborhoods and other high schools in the Tempe Union district.
And they’re not going into this exercise cold. Their research has extended into past statements the candidates have made.
“We’re looking at past questions, looking at new issues that have come up and just kind of incorporating those into our questions and then also looking at specifics of what each candidate has said in different interviews that they’ve done,” Alan explained.
That way, he said, they’re prepared to tell a candidate, “Well, you brought this up in this interview. Is this still your opinion on this issue? Have you changed? We’re just trying to make sure that everything is relevant and new, and that way the community is up to date on what they think.”
School board candidates can expect the questions to be “a lot more focused on education,” Destiny said.
As for the LD18 hopefuls, “there’s a whole lot more to talk about, you know like social issues and environmental issues, the economy, things like that.”
Guided by their teacher on what issues a state legislature has little to no impact on, the students huddled for hours around targeting their questions to matters that legislators can affect.
Yet, the Red for Ed walkout last spring and the enveloping issue of education funding loomed large for the students as they formulated their questions for both sets of candidates.
While they said they understood the reason for the walkout and knew some students who welcomed the time off, Destiny said it also “was stressful for kids who have honors and AP classes.”
“The testing is so hard, and you have to get through so much stuff,” she said. “But after losing that many days it’s hard to just come back to school and then try and start up with what you learned a week ago.”
Yet, Alison added, “I’m not really sure about schools outside of Mountain Pointe, but I think because of Red for Ed we were able to see how important it is for those teachers to be here and how much them not being here impacted everything.”
Though students were shaken by the rash of school shootings across the country – particularly the Valentine’s Day slaughter at a high school in Florida – school security did not loom as large on the students as they formulated their questions even though many supported the March for Life earlier this year and participated in on-campus memorials for the victims.
Although Alison said she has been in high schools where she did not feel safe, she and the other two leaders feel recent changes in access to Mountain Pointe have significantly improved security.
But the trauma they and so many high school students felt after the Parkland, Florida, massacre nonetheless pointed to a bigger concern.
“Our school voting registration has gotten very big, and we like getting involved in those community issues because we want to have our voice heard because I think that’s one of the biggest things that generations don’t have – a voice,” Alison said. “They tell us to get more involved, and then they say like, ‘Oh, your opinion doesn’t matter.’”
But she added that Mountain Pointe “has done a really good job on that, and they have just been super supportive” of students’ desire to make their voice heard.
Of the three leaders, only Destiny is old enough to vote in this election, and she said her work on the forum has her looking forward to becoming a voting citizen.
Alison said she’s “sad” she’s not old enough but also noted “because of this project, I am able to look a little bit more into politics – which I haven’t been able to for most of my life – and kind of get an insider look at it and be prepared for the next election.”
The students already feel they and their classmates have learned a lot – not just about politics, but life in general.
The biggest lesson politically has been, Alison said, “You need to be informed.”
“It’s crazy how much you think you know,” she added, “but then once you go into their bio or the specific things they’re saying, it’s different.”
Alan said, “Just the whole experience of planning an event like this has been amazing because this thing is influencing people’s choices for our Legislature.”
Beyond politics, Destiny said, is the knowledge of” how much work you really need to put in if you really want something done right. We have to make sure everything’s going to run smoothly because it is a reflection of us as students ...what we’re representing is going to be how our school is seen.”
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