It's never too early to learn the importance of voting - so believes George L. Hess Educational Complex fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Schairer.

For this and the past two presidential contests, Schairer has organized mock elections at the school on Election Day, and says her students eagerly anticipated the chance to make their voices heard.

"They're excited," Schairer said. "They come in, I talked to my classes prior to doing this, and they went home and talked to their parents, and I think our map shows really what they're learning at home, and that's what it has for the last two elections, so I'm anxious to see what happens tonight."

Each of the school's homerooms represented a state on the electoral map. As each group's votes were tallied, Schairer colored in the corresponding state on a map in the hallway in red or blue. Her students, who rotated staffing the voting booth, also colored in electoral maps of their own.

After the day's voting, Barack Obama had taken Hess with a result even more lopsided than the national vote, finishing with 429 electors to Mitt Romney's 48.

Fourth-grader Kaitlyn Gronau was excited to vote, and cast hers for the incumbent, saying she trusts him to steer the country on the right path.

"I would like Obama to win, because I think he'll do good for our country and whatever he says, I think he'll really do it this year," she said.

Schairer said she covered the election with her students as a current event. While she glossed over discussing the candidates for fear of biasing her students, Schairer encouraged them to follow the race by talking to their parents. She plans to use the results in an upcoming math lesson.

Other teachers timed lessons to coincide with the election. Fifth-grade teacher Melissa Olkowski said she had her students participate in a mock debate, writing essays in which they attempted to sway Benjamin Franklin's cousin to the side of the patriots or the loyalists.

"We talked about the debate," Olkowski said. "We also had a debate of our own because we're doing the American Revolution, so they experienced a debate for themselves. I've also talked to them and encouraged them to watch the debates at home."

The political lessons will continue in the coming weeks, with Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, slated to make an appearance at the school.

While the real vote is still a long way off for the students at Hess, Olkowski said the mock election offers them a good taste of the process.

"I think they're very excited because they can't experience it in the real world yet, so it's a neat preview for them to see what's to come as they grow older," Olkowski said.

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