For high school students, it's easy to feel disconnected from politics.
As few are of voting age, they're a rarely targeted demographic. Their brushes with politicians are usually limited to TV ads or lawn signs, but for a group of students at Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing, that relationship recently became much more intimate.
Seven local politicians visited Oakcrest on Oct. 11 for its 2012 Campaign Convention, discussing politics and their platforms and answering student questions. Some even exchanged Twitter handles.
"She actually came over to us and was talking to us, and she was really fun and outgoing, she was really nice and sweet," said sophomore Kassidy Baum, who spoke at length with congressional hopeful Cassandra Shober after the convention. "We're going to follow her on Twitter, because she'll follow us back."
The Campaign Convention, an annual event organized by the Oakcrest Social Studies Club, has become a popular tradition with students and staff.
Stephanie Darrell, co-adviser of the club and a special- education and history teacher at the school, said she makes a point to impress on her students the importance of voting.
"I hear a lot of the time kids just talking in class about how no one understands them, no one pays attention to them, which may be true," Darrell said. "But really, voting is the one way they have to voice their concerns."
While Darrell and co-adviser Vince Sera do some of the planning, they said it's mostly student-run. The addition of a Q & A session following the politicians' presentations, for example, was a student suggestion for this year.
In addition to the members of the club, Sera's AP government class and the school's English II students helped put the event together and made up the bulk of attendees.
Kendall Watt, a three-year member of the Social Studies club, introduced the candidates. Watt, who spoke with them a bit before the convention got under way, said she was surprised at how open they were.
"I think it was so great; it was great to listen to them introduce themselves," Watt said. "They were really funny people. You always think, politicians, boo, boring, but they're not. They're regular people. I talked to everyone, and they're all just nice and funny, and we held conversations."
Sam Guzman, also a member of the club, said that while she, like many students, is too young to vote, she found it a valuable opportunity to network with professionals and build her social skills.
"It's good for building connections, it's good for building your socializing skills for things you'll need when you're out of school," said Guzman, who hopes to go into either journalism or film. "The profession I want to go into, you're going to need to know how to talk to people."
After the presentations, which took place in the cafeteria, the students and candidates repaired to the cafeteria, where they mingled amid booths that included games, polling station and voter registration.
While she's still a few years away from being able to register herself, Baum said she understands the importance of the vote.
"Every vote does count, and if you vote, you can make a difference in your community," Baum said. "If you don't vote, you won't be able to make the decisions in your government."
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