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Middlesex students participate in online gubernatorial forum

On November 5, Virginia residents will elect Republican candidate and current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, or Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe as Governor. Both candidates have faced hard-hitting questions from the media, political pundits, and constituents, yet this year they may have encountered their hardest audience to date—students.

Enter Face the Students, a program that allows middle school and high school students across the state of Virginia to write questions for the gubernatorial candidates. Beginning September 1, students began submitting questions to an online posting forum. They could post questions to each of the following five categories: economy, education, family, healthcare, and immigration. The questions needed to be general enough so that both candidates could answer but specific enough to pinpoint an issue.

This is the program’s second year, following the 2012 Senate campaign of Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine.

Jamie Somerville, 12th-grade government teacher at Middlesex High School, felt the program was a good learning opportunity because it got the students thinking. “It was interesting to hear the students reflect on what was important,” he said. “They came up with really profound stuff.”

St. Clare Walker Middle School 8th-graders taking Annie Somerville’s civics and economics class were encouraged to draft questions using higher level thinking verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy, an educational classification system of desired student objectives. Students were asked to reach beyond basic open-ended questions and use advanced verbs, such as evaluate, interpret, judge and construct, to phrase more meaningful questions.

After several rounds of voting at both the school and division level, several St. Clare Walker students had their questions advance to the state level. Cole Radabaugh’s question in the education category asked candidates to consider increasing funding for technology in schools, specifically referencing outdated computers.

“I chose that question because it really is ridiculous that we have computers from 1995. I don’t think schools get enough funds,” Radabaugh said.

Fellow classmate Emilie Smith posed a question in the economy category about the effect of taxes on Virginia residents and how politicians can work to reduce governmental debt.

“It was difficult to write a quality question and not a bland question,” Smith said. “It had to make it through the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.”

Other 8th-grade students with advancing questions were Manuel Fernandez for his question on immigration, and Hannah Marx for her question on healthcare.

In the end, the five winning questions at the statewide level were submitted by high school students from Rustburg High and Colonial Heights High. Specific topics for the winning questions included the educational impact of SOL testing, acceptance rates of minorities in public universities, legalization of marijuana, rights of teenagers to receive abortions, and current and future job growth in Virginia. Students across the state can view videos of the candidates’ answers via the website.

“I fully plan on continuing this program in other election years,” Somerville said. “It definitely got the competitive juices flowing.”

posted 10.30.2013

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