Students at Stevenson Elementary are getting an up-close look at school board candidates for the Mountain View Whisman School District this fall. They know the issues, they know who is running, and they know who they'd vote for if they weren't less than half the voting age.
A class of second and third graders at Stevenson are learning about the local school board and how it works for a fall project. Trevor Mattea, who teaches the class, said he wanted to teach the students about government, and chose to focus on the school board because the candidates all live nearby and the issues are relevant to to the students.
The close proximity has its advantages. All four school board candidates -- challengers Greg Coladonato and Hafsa Mirza, aand incumbents Philip Palmer and Ellen Wheeler -- came to the class for in-person interviews, giving Mattea and the students a chance to ask questions directly about who they are, what their roles are and where they stand on the election issues.
Students also interviewed four of the five current board members, as well as Superintendent Craig Goldman.
Mattea said he gave candidates a PowerPoint template and some questions in advance, including what they do for a living, whether or not they volunteer, and how they might characterize candidates who disagree with them on some issues.
During the interviews, Mattea said the students were ready to ask tough questions, inquiring about the achievement gap, teacher compensation, and even the standard teacher salary schedule as it compares to a merit-based model.
"One thing I was struck with was how furious some of my students took the responsibility of interviewing the candidates," Mattea said. "There was some potential to not ask very serious questions, but there wasn't any chance for them to be intimidated or hold back, either."
The interviews lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to nearly an hour and a half. Greg Coladonato said his meeting with the students was 90 minutes long and included three breaks. He said the kids in the class were engaged the whole way through and raised their hands a lot -- though the questions weren't always on-topic.
Mattea said candidates might have been surprised to have kids between the ages of 7 and 9 grill them on teacher pay and under-achieving student populations -- subjects they were well-versed in by the time interviews rolled around.
Students read candidate websites and ballot statements, learning about Academic Performance Index, or API, scores and what they meant. They also learned more broad election terms, like endorsements, and why they're important for a candidate.
The students also created information pamphlets on the election and, in a field trip last week, handed out roughly 100 pamphlets to people in downtown Mountain View. They also handed out voter registration forms to about five people, and may have plans to go door-to-door with election information in a future field trip.
Mattea said a lot of kids are quick to focus on how they can't vote and how their civic involvement is limited, and he thought the field trip would be a cool way for the students to participate in the election. He said they did have a little trouble finding a place to table, however. He said of the 10 to 15 places they asked to table at, most of them were worried it could have been perceived as "politically partisan."
Still, the class was able to set up a table in the Civic Center Plaza, outside of Red Rock Cafe and the entrance to the Mountain View library.
Mattea said the class has since switched gears, with a new focus on which candidates appeal to the students and why. In a brain storming session on the white board, he said students thought school board members should be people who have experience working with children, and ideally, have kids in the district. Other common issues students bring up include teacher pay, STEM courses and a new school location.
"They want to endorse candidates based on which of those things (the candidates) think is most important," Mattea said.
If they do end up writing endorsements, no candidate will be left behind. Anywhere from two to eight kids support each candidate, he said.