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Freshmen create voter guide aimed at first-time voters

Activity challenges students to hone their political knowledge

Forest Hills — Bella Grounin much prefers the volleyball court to the ballot box. Understandable, since she is still a few years away from being legally able to vote.

And though the Forest Hills Central High freshman admits she didn’t even know there was a Michigan Supreme Court until a few weeks ago, now she can tell you what the justices’ basic duties are, that there are seven candidates for two open seats and that getting most to respond to a few questions is really, really tough.

Civics teacher Jeff Manders

With an eye on informing voters —  particularly the first-time variety — some two dozen freshmen in Jeff Manders’ third-hour civics class have put together a 2020 voters guide that details candidates and issues up for election Tuesday.

The guide includes non-partisan information on candidates and local proposals, from U.S. President to those running for Kent County commissioner to FHPS Board of Education candidates. Also included are both proposals on the ballot.

Central High senior Ian Stewart, a student in Manders’ FX broadcasting class, is just the type of voter the guide aims to attract. He has a mail-in ballot to fill out, but is waiting until election day to see if he’s comfortable voting in person “just to have that experience.”

“I’ve been looking over (the guide) today,” Ian said. “I’ve been watching the news and listening to the debates, but I haven’t really done too much research. This guide looks interesting, and I’m definitely going to read it more.”

Freshman Bella Grounin helped research and put together the section on the candidates for Michigan Supreme Court (courtesy)

Sparking Interest

Manders’ civics students learn about political parties and their ideologies, the importance of being politically engaged and the role the media plays.

“It’s not something they necessarily get all that excited about,” he said of students’ introduction to politics. He polled freshmen at the beginning of the year, asking how interested they were in politics, on a scale of 1 to 5. Most were 1s, he said. “Some even said they were a zero, which wasn’t an option.”

So he decided to try the project this year, especially because of the large number of young people who plan to vote in this election.

“Once they (freshmen) got going and started looking at interest groups and how much goes into somebody running, even for the board of education, and how much work does or doesn’t go into it, how much candidates use the media and the effect that has, conversations started to come up. They definitely worked hard on it.”

And being an informed voter? “It’s challenging,” Manders said. “Everyone talked about how hard it was to find information, and it’s supposed to be public… One candidate didn’t even have a campaign website. Imagine being a voter trying to find this information.”

Manders, who was reached for this article in the midst of an all-day and into the evening parent conferences via Zoom, said he had already heard from parents that their freshmen brought up politics at home. “That’s my hope,” he said, “that there’s a little bit of a spark when I send them off at the end of December.”

A screenshot from the FHC voter guide page with links to candidates for open state Board of Education seats
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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