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One of the most highly anticipated days for a fourth or fifth grader in the Denver area is the day he or she comes to Young AmeriTowne. It’s a day they will remember for years to come. I meet people in their 20s and 30s who remember what job they had or what shop they worked in. Of course, the day of the field trip only lasts about 3-4 hours, but what some people aren’t aware of is the amount of preparation needed at school before the students step on a bus to come to Young Ameritowne. At school, teachers spend 2-6 weeks’ teaching curriculum designed to prepare students for their trip.
One of the most time consuming and amusing parts of this curriculum is interviewing students for job placements in town. Everyone fills out an application and interviews for a job (i.e. a doctor, reporter, teller, etc.) but only two positions are voted on by the students themselves; the mayor and Judge. There is a general election where anyone can run for one of these two positions, which consists of giving a short speech in front of classmates, who vote on their top 4 candidates for each position. Teachers announce the top 4 candidates and divide the class into campaign teams. Teams help their candidate make posters and write speeches culminating in a primary election. Candidates give 1 final speech and the winners are announced a few days before the field trip.
Since this process happens back at school, I, fortunately never have the difficult task of delivering the bad news to the unlucky candidates. Working with fifth graders every day, I know how easily tears are shed and feelings can be hurt. How do the teachers avoid this becoming a popularity contest?
A few weeks ago, I gained unique insight to this question. It changed the way I see fifth grade students, and I now know not to be surprised. We had a mayor and judge who were twin brothers, Drew and Evan. They weren’t identical, but both had happy demeanors, and were kind and respectful to each other. The only noticeable difference was Drew’s autism. It was apparent when he gave his speech, which was typed, as most mayors will do, but he read it very slow, with care, and held it directly in front of his face. Here is a snippet of his speech: “Remember, my door is always open so please stop by with any questions, concerns, or ideas to make AmeriTowne a better place.”
When Drew concluded his speech, his classmates burst into applause, in obvious support, but no one more obvious than his brother standing next to him, who could be seen nodding along the entire duration of his brother’s speech. When I asked Drew why he decided to run, he said his brother told him to do it. He told Drew it wasn’t a popularity contest. When he won, he said, “It was a test to me that I am truly qualified for this position. A good mayor requires humor and smartness.”
Well said, Drew. These kids are so much wiser than I was giving them credit for. They support one another, cheer each other on, and vote for the most qualified candidate. They work hard and are caring and I will never take them for granted again!
Teacher’s Tip: Don’t announce Mayor and Judge until you are announcing the other students’ positions. This will deter from tears and still gives everyone a chance to go through the application process.