A group of Ohio high schoolers spent the days leading up to the Iowa caucus zig-zagging the Hawkeye State attending campaign events for presidential candidates on an unconventional field trip.
“Not only do they now know more details about the candidates and how they feel on the issues and the process of caucusing, but a lot of them, I think that they will always have an interest in politics because of this trip,” says Caitlin Rudisell, a social studies teacher at Taylor High School in Ohio, who accompanied students taking Advanced Placement government on the trip.
Rudisell says they weren’t quite sure what to expect before they made the roughly 11-and-a-half hour bus trip to Iowa, since information on public events for the presidential candidates was often changing. They relied on information from the candidates’ websites and a candidate tracker to decide which events to attend.
Students ended up attending events for most of the presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, she says.
One Taylor High School student snagged a selfie with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a field trip to the Iowa caucus. (Kendall Sullivan/Taylor High School)
During the actual caucuses, the students had plans to volunteer at a precinct and watch the events unfold, but winter weather changed their plans. They had a viewing party in their hotel instead, she says.
And this week, more than 100 AP government students from Mamaroneck High School in New York are in New Hampshire for the state’s primary. Social studies teacher Joe Liberti organized a trip for a smaller number of students in 2012.
“It was beyond my expectations, it was just tremendous,” he says. “I have to say, I have never seen students so affected by any educational experience, and so once I came back from that, I knew I was going back in 2016.”
Twenty-one students on this year’s trip are working as journalists, and are publishing their coverage of the trips’ events on a Medium site created for the trip, says journalism teacher Evan Madin, who helped organize the trip.
“They are going to learn how to interview on the spot, create an angle on the spot, learn how to deal with a press conference,” he says. “I mean these are all skills that you can talk about and lecture in class, but to actually experience it is a whole other thing.”
Five students are documenting the trip as videographers. The rest are spending the trip campaigning for a candidate of the party of their choosing, Liberti says.
“Every night, we dedicate a half hour to reading up on our candidates and just making sure that we know all our stuff,” says senior Victoria Patti, 17, who is campaigning for Bernie Sanders on the trip, on her preparations for the journey.
She’s enjoyed watching her candidate rise in the polls, she says. On Election Day, she’ll be 18 and plans to vote.
“If you don’t have students practice being active in our political system, they will more than likely not be active when they are older,” says Liberti. “If you want people to develop good habits of citizenry, you need to start when they are young.”
While not all high school social studies teachers can organize election-themed field trips like these, they could use the following online resources to teach the election in class.
• TodaysMeet: Rudisell uses this chatroom-style site for educators to host discussions with students during debates.