Hands on Learning
Stratford Rotary Club Sponsors Innovative High School Voting Program
Juniors at Stratford and Bunnell High Schools got an early taste of voting issues – and a chance to use the town’s professional voting machines –under a program funded by the Stratford Rotary club.
The Rotary program called for the town’s Registrars of Voters – James Simon and Lou DeCilio – to first meet with all 11th graders in June and conduct a workshop on why voting matters, how candidates are chosen, how to campaign (whether for Senior Class President or for U.S. President), and what they should expect in casting a ballot.
The Registrars then set up the town’s professional Opti-Scan voting machines with the names of all candidates for Senior class positions and paid to have professional ballots printed. At each school, dozens of students gained experience by filling the roles of Polling Moderator, Assistant Registrar, Official Checker, Ballot Clerk, and Tabulators, and they helped 330+ students cast ballots.
Garrett Covino, the faculty adviser to student government at Bunnell, said, “We can’t thank the Stratford Rotary enough for their help in funding this program. Bunnell Juniors were able to engage in the actual voting process and prepare to participate in the real world application of the voting process.”
“Students were attentive, proud, and excited to foster a sense of actual civil engagement. Not to mention how happy they were to receive an official ‘I Voted’ sticker. Who knew that a sticker could be so enticing?” he said.
Elizabeth Bourjailie, Chair of the Humanities Department at SHS, said some of the students carried the message home to parents. One told her: “[She] had thought it so cool to see her name on a real ballot! She told me all about the election process when she got home and who was there! Kudos to everyone who set that up!”
Bourjailie also said SHS school psychologist Alissa Orti “reached out to praise the decision to bring this opportunity to our schools and said it “provided students with this one-of-a-kind-experience.”
The multi-step process demystified voting for students and allowed them to ask questions about issues like absentee ballots and ballot security that they had seen in the news, said Simon, a former political reporter who obtained the grant as a member of Stratford Rotary.
In a final report on the project, he said:
- More than 330 students in Grade 11 heard our preliminary discussion on voting and elections and actually cast a ballot. Many then discussed the project back in the classroom to close the learning loop.
- 40 students — some of the same voters, some students from other grades – gained practical experience by serving as high school election workers.
- More than 20 BHS and SHS students applied to work in paid positions at the Stratford polls in the August 2022 primary and the November general election.
Kirsten Kovacs-Hardy, Humanities coordinator at Bunnell High, School, said studies have found only 50 percent of young people are taught how to register to vote in high school. White students and students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds receive more civics education than other students do.
“I knew we had to do better,” she said, looking back on the project. “In order to encourage students to vote, we must first remove some of the mental and structural barriers. These include understanding complicated rules when it comes to requesting absentee ballots, a lack of confidence in the value of their votes, and an overall fear of the voting process.”
“I believe Lou DeCilio and Jim Simon helped dismantle these and other barriers during their informative discussions and facilitation of the simulated election. The teachers and administration at Bunnell thank them and the Rotary Club for their support of this important endeavor. We look forward to making this an annual event.”