Preparing for the Election

This guest post is authored by Shahana Sarkar, HRS Dean of Academics and Community

The upcoming election has evoked apprehension and emotion in the HRS community as well as across the nation. In keeping with our mission, Head-Royce is taking this opportunity to engage our students in the importance of civil discourse and the democratic process. As we also find ourselves in the middle of an ongoing pandemic, there are many real-world learning opportunities for our students to witness, discuss, and process issues in an age-appropriate way. Engagement looks different in each division -- but a common thread is allowing students to feel involved and empowered while promoting and practicing empathy and understanding.

Across our three divisions, our teachers have been deeply engaged in the Teaching and Learning goal of our Strategic Plan, offering students real-world problems, choice, as well as opportunities to ask questions or develop projects that foster critical thinking, require collaboration, and lead to creative solutions. Please read below for some examples showcasing how we are bringing students along on the 2020 election journey. 

Lower School 

First graders worked on a hybrid math/social justice lesson by predicting and then tallying the gender makeup of our current US senators. Students discussed issues such as gender and racial imbalance, fair representation in government, and the history of equity and balance in our government. Our younger students were passionate and handled these conversations with empathy and maturity.

Fifth graders followed the debates and have been learning about topics of interest leading up to the election. Students used Newsela articles to gain more information on issues, ranging from racial equity to health care and the COVID response. Students have researched the process of electing the president, with particular focus on the electoral college. While learning about polls and projected results, they also explored the meaning of traditional red and blue states, as well as swing/battleground states. In anticipation of next week, they constructed their own projected maps to compare to the final results!

We’ve also discussed and have followed the Norms for Potentially Polarizing Discussions that was published by Leadership + Design in their Design for Election Week unit. Teachers are stressing the importance of empathy after the election to ensure that our community is conscious of the varying emotions around election results.

Middle School 

Many advising groups have already begun discussions around the election with a toolbox of resources with lessons and articles appropriate for a wide range of advising groups. Post-election discussion guides have been available for handling what can be emotionally-charged election-related conversations.

Middle School History students have watched the debates and scored them using a rubric.  They have also begun exploring voting rights and voter suppression by identifying groups who have been denied voting rights, how those rights were denied, and exploring current voter suppression and suggestions for how to put an end to it. 6th graders are being challenged to think about what percentage of an electoral college vote people in various states represent, or another, more difficult question: What is the least number of people you can get to vote for you while still winning the presidency?

On November 4, the Middle School will be on a special schedule with a later start time to accommodate anyone who stays up late to watch the election results. We have broken the day into blocks, including an all-middle-school assembly, an advising block, a block for the counselors to meet with students, and a faculty-led discussion block on election-related topics. 

Upper School 

The US History classes analyzed the debates and researched federal, state, and local election issues. In 11th grade History, students touched on the current political upheaval by investigating contemporary movements: Movement for Black Lives, Prison Abolition, Equal Justice Initiative, Poor People's Campaign, Water Protectors, and see how they relate to the authors read this year (Orwell, Marx, Freud, Césaire, Fanon, Lorde, Anzaldua). Students in the Oakland Senior Election class created this resource guide for state and Alameda County initiatives.

The Calculus classes put their analytics skills to work by thinking about rates of change as they applied to election data and polling using Fivethirtyeight statistics and an interactive data visualization dashboard. Students in 10th grade English learned about rhetorical devices and applied their insights to political ads, campaign speeches, and the debates. 

The Upper School will have a special schedule on November 4, allowing students who choose to, to debrief, practice mindfulness, and participate in various discussions from local politics to media coverage. Middle School students will also participate in grade-level election discussions and supportive smaller group discussions in advising groups. 

Our teachers are committed to strengthening their classroom communities, underscoring the values of our inclusive classrooms, creating space for reflection, talking about what respect means, and how to win or lose with grace.

We encourage families to discuss the election openly with your students, emphasizing that civic engagement, including voting, is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. All our students' voices are important and need to be heard - now and in the future. This short article on talking with young people after the election offers good ways to engage with your children.  

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