David N. Carter, Gautreaux, Craig
4-H’ers at Zachary Elementary School had their own Election Day Wednesday (Oct. 5) as students selected 4-H officers for the 2005-06 school year with the same voting machines their parents use to elect national and state officials.
The voting culminated a weeklong campaign and social studies lessons aimed at giving the students an in-depth look at the democratic election process.
"We’re trying to make good citizens out of our students, and this exercise is a great way for them to see how the democratic process works," said Patty Miller, a 4th grade teacher and 4-H club leader for the school.
Helping young people become better citizens is just one hallmark of the 4-H youth development program, which is operated across Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter. The program is designed to help youth develop life skills and knowledge that will benefit them, their families and their communities.
As for the voting exercises in Zachary, with help from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, touch-screen voting machines were set up to conduct the election. The machines allowed the students to see how the actual voting process takes place in local, state and national elections.
LSU AgCenter 4-H agent David Carter of East Baton Rouge Parish said using the machines was a good experience for the youngsters.
"Having an election using real voting machines is a great way to complement 4-H activities by incorporating a real-life experience such as voting," Carter said. "It allows them to participate in the democratic process."
Zachary Elementary has one of the largest 4-H Clubs in the state, with approximately 230 fourth graders participating in the program. Carter said that the school’s 4-H program is so successful because of the support of the administrators and faculty, as well as parental involvement.
More than 170,000 Louisiana youth participate in 4-H Clubs and enrichment programs across Louisiana, and 4-H is the nation’s largest youth organization – operated by the land-grant universities across the United States.
This year is the second consecutive year that voting machines were used in the election of 4-H officers at Zachary.
In addition to using the voting machines, students running for office also had to develop and implement a full campaign for the election. During the week, candidates laid out their campaign platforms and promoted their campaign slogans. They also created their own campaign stickers and posters that were on display the day of the election.
Miller said a positive component of the 4-H curriculum is that it reaches all levels of students. "It’s not just for the upper-end students. All students of all abilities benefit from the program," she said.