BROOKSVILLE — They may have been a little young to vote this year, but West Hernando Middle School students aren't that far away from the real thing. So a little practice — a mock election on Election Day — seemed valuable.
"It's a good idea because the students get a real-life experience," said principal Carmine Rufa. "Some will be voting in the next election."
The schoolwide exercise was pulled off largely through the efforts of media specialist Cecelia Solomon, lab manager Dan Marcinowski, media assistant Louise Kidd and seventh-grade civics teacher Amanda Lafoe.
"We wanted to showcase what rights are and their responsibilities," Lafoe said.
She said she wanted to help answer questions the students had about what was going on at home, what had been on television and what all the leaflets in the mail meant.
While Lafoe and the other social studies teachers were instructing their students about voting rights, Solomon and Marcinowski handled the logistics. Marcinowski created voter identification cards for each of the school's 1,000-plus students.
Solomon set up carrels on the media center tables. A central table held decorated boxes, one for each grade level, to hold the ballots. The folders were returned, as they are in an actual polling place.
A room leading into the media center was set up just like the check-in at election sites.
Tables bearing signs dividing students according to the first letter of their last names were staffed by selected students who looked up each voter's name and asked him or her to initial it.
Solomon pointed out that although she and the other teachers assisted, the students were doing the work of signing voters in, directing them to carrels, guiding them on the procedure for turning in ballots and finally counting the votes.
Voters were rewarded with "I voted" stickers provided by Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams.
The students voted on ballot copies, but there wasn't enough time to vote on and count all of the races and ballot initiatives, so they focused on president and sheriff.
Sixth-graders Michael Maynard, 11; Emily Blauers, 11, and Gabriel Chambers, 11, were all first-time voters.
"I thought it was interesting for us kids to get to know what it's like to vote as adults," Michael said. He said he will vote when he's older, "because it would be important for me to vote for president; choice from us people, instead of choice from other people."
Said Emily: "I was a little confused in the beginning, because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to fill out everything on the ballot."
A student poll worker assisted her.
She agreed it is important to vote.
"I want to be able to influence the world I live in to make it better for others," she said.
Gabriel also had ambitious reasons to participate once he turns 18.
"It's important to vote because I feel I should speak my mind without being insulted or put down and (about) what I feel is better for the world, the United States, so we could have a better life," he said.
Tuesday's winners among the students?
For president: Barack Obama. For sheriff: Al Nienhuis.