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High school seniors prepare for the 2020 presidential election

Published: Feb. 19, 2020 at 6:42 AM CST
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As the presidential campaign continues, voters are faced with the sometimes difficult task of keeping up with the latest developments.

Those voters include high school seniors who are preparing to participate in their first election.

Born in 2001 and 2002, seniors at Valley Center High School talk about the upcoming election every day.

"It's a great time to be a government teacher," says Valley Center High School teachers Ty Unrau. "Every day is a lesson, it seems like, in checks and balances."

His classroom doesn't have desks. Students don't have textbooks or take notes. Each day, they discuss how decisions by politicians impact their lives.

"I didn't really have any strong political views. I didn't want to talk about politics just because I felt like I wasn't really educated enough to make informed decisions about it," says senior Haven Massey. "With this class, I've been able to develop viewpoints and as we go into the election, I have a firmer idea of what I'm looking for in a candidate and what I want to vote for."

The discussions are peer-to-peer, and start with a handshake. Unrau says as a social studies class, he feels responsible for giving them a chance to develop social skills.

Then, he gives a topic, such as sharing which candidate the students like most. "We can have a conversation where there's mutual understanding and there's actual benefit at the end. It's not a shouting match."

He wants students to see why others have different opinions. "What we try to do is understand those biases and work to understand - with empathy - where everyone else is coming from," Unrau says.

The students say they feel respected and are comfortable talking about political issues.

"In this environment, everyone is pretty understanding of each other's opinions so I don't really feel nervous to talk about my opinions, which is really really nice," Massey says.

Senior Thalia Barnhart says that she stays off social media, because she's learned that a 280-character tweet does not provide the explanation and conversation she would like to have before making decisions. "I like to be in person or over the phone Where you can actually talk and explain everything. I don't like short little messages," she says.

Unrau hopes the students take the lessons learned in his class into the years to come. "Adults still struggle with these issues, and if we can do a little better job as educating these young people to feel that empathy for other people and challenge some of the myths that may be out there, then we can all benefit from learning abut things," he says.

Unrau encourages his students to be "fact checkers" by considering several viewpoints. He says students should use multiple tabs and look at different articles before forming an opinion. He says his students should research a quote, video or picture before sharing it on social media.

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