Nature Coast Technical honors class orchestrates forum for political candidates

Published May 10, 2012

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast Technical High School teacher Stan Garthwait, 33, has a class called American Political System Honors and it's full of 18- or soon-to-be-18- year-olds.

And it's an election year. So, having them produce a political forum seemed like a good idea.

"A lot of us are 18 and voting for the first time," senior Annie Hernandez said of the May 2 Candidate Expo/School Board Debate.

"We all got together as a class," said senior Brandon Rossi. As a group they determined what questions to ask the candidates.

They also divvied up jobs. Setting up a big event open to the public means handling a lot of logistics. The students jumped right in. "We all had specific duties," said senior Anthony Maffatone, who worked with Hernandez and fellow seniors Courtney McCane and Nicole Zink as researchers or moderators.

Rossi helped organize the forum with seniors Samantha Bronau, Blake Lowman, and Emily Torres. That part of the event was held in the gymnasium, and candidates for any local office were invited to set up booths and meet constituents. Twenty-nine participated.

Bronau and Lowman also handled the television production, filming the event so it could air on HITV, the school district's instructional television. They worked under the direction of TV production teacher Ian Wald.

Seniors Sean Conray, Austin Vermette and Peter Lombardo set up the cafeteria for the debate that followed the forum. Other students, including senior Jered Arnold issued news releases. Advertising included fliers produced in graphic arts teacher Trevor Barlow's class.

The students, who look forward to voting for the first time, are worried about issues that affect them. "I'm excited," said Hernandez, who is liberal leaning. "I'm looking forward to it."

"Everyone needs to participate in their community, state and country," said Vermette, who considers himself an independent.

Lowman, a registered Republican, said then when people who don't vote start to complain, "they shouldn't be whining because they didn't vote."

A couple of issues important to the students were addressed by the five School Board candidates who participated. They acknowledged that the budget is a problem. That was one of Conray's concerns, but, he said, "I know the School Board can't do much about that." Conray considers himself a Republican.

What he couldn't understand, though, was why there was a policy of not allowing field trips out of the area. Rossi, a Libertarian, agreed. The school, he said, used to have a ski club that traveled to Colorado, but that was discontinued. "Our ski trip didn't cost the School Board anything," he said.

Maffatone, too, thought that was a bad policy. "I feel like it deprives children of cultural opportunities," said the Democrat.

As it turned out, the five participating candidates agreed with the students to allow out-of-state or even international trips, as long as all of the funds were raised by students and it didn't cost the school district anything.