Many high school students don't seem to pay much attention to local elections, especially since many of them are too young to vote, but AP Government and Politics teacher Julie Conti gets high school seniors involved and interested in politics every year.
At the start of October, Conti assigned students to embark on a project involving the local elections in Niagara Falls and Niagara County. This two-part project included a 1,500-word essay on a campaign and a mandatory five hours of volunteering with a local campaign.
Students in Conti's class learned about different volunteer opportunities ranging from the County Legislature to the Democratic Party to mayoral candidates. As the month went on, students managed to spend most of their free time helping out. For some, it meant stickinglabels on mailers at Mayor Paul Dyster's headquarters. Others spent their weekends helping to deliver literature for numerous candidates. Some called voters, and on Election Day, some even went to polling places to record the numbers as they came in.
While students helped out with the campaigns, they also got a chance to meet numerous politicians. A few even came to the school. Mayoral candidate Johnny Destino told the class what his plans were for the city, and a few days later the students got to hear how Dyster wants to continue his plan for the City of Niagara Falls. The students also got to hear the story of Brittany Catchpole, who, at 18, was the youngest person to serve in the Niagara County Legislature (although she lost the seat in last week's election). All three speakers took questions from the students and some of their answers even inspired the students.
With Destino being on the School Board, one student asked him why chocolate milk had disappeared from the school cafeteria. Destino explained it had to be removed to follow through with a mandate. When Dyster came a week later, someone asked if he could get the chocolate milk back. Dyster jokingly encouraged students to protest at a board meeting.
Senior Dominic Daoust took Dyster's words to heart and came up with a plan to get the chocolate milk back. Daoust gathered student and staff signatures on a petition and went to the School Board with more than 500 signatures and a speech full of statistics and facts.
Within two weeks, chocolate milk was returned to the cafeteria.
This election project took a lot of time and effort, but there's one thing most students agree upon, it also was fun.
As Paula Lazatin said, "You don't see how much behind-the-scenes effort there is in running a campaign. I helped with Destino's campaign, and everything we did ... was not something I had ever really thought about having to get done. It's a lot of hard work."
Who knows, maybe one day students from the Class of 2012 at Niagara Falls High School will be running for office, thanks to this project.
Isabella Fagiani is a senior at Niagara Falls High School.