Algonkian Elementary School is celebrating reading this month by having each class collectively read 2,004 minutes.
Principal Robert Duckworth organized a Vote for America Assembly to kick off the event, linking it to a “Vote for Books.”
“I wanted the kids to understand the right and responsibility and privileges that come with voting,” he said. “It concerns me when we have more people voting for the American Idol competition than we do in elections for officials.”
He invited state Sen. Bill Mims to talk to the students about their right to vote and Betsy Mayr, president of the League of Women Voters of Loudoun County, to provide a history lesson on women’s suffrage.
Duckworth stood with Uncle Sam, also known as 5th grader Ryan Jones, at the assembly Friday. “We’re going to talk to you about voting,” he said. “You need to vote to exercise your right to be heard.”
Mims read, “Max for President,” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. He talked to students about voting and compared promises made during the televised presidential debate the night before to promises made by Max and Kelly. In the book, Kelly wins the school election.
Mims, who has a daughter, Sarah, attending Algonkian, showed the students different sized political signs and held up words on poster board as he engaged them with questions about their knowledge of the voting process. His wife, Jane Mims, held onto one end of the banner-sized sign.
“WHEN I WAS in elementary school, we had a presidential election and it was when President Johnson was elected in 1964,” he said. “That was a long time ago,” emphasizing the length of time by pronouncing the word “looooong.”
He urged the students to remind their parents, their older brothers and sisters and all adults to vote.
Mayr enlisted the help of two girls from each of the five classes in role-playing as she explained how women fought to win the right to vote, starting in 1850. She had the girls chant, “Girls just wanta vote!”
She said women belonged to their fathers, their husbands or other men, and even went to jail during the women’s suffrage movement. The students, particularly the boys, cheered when they heard the women were imprisoned, mistreated and given only cold gruel to eat. The gruel was mostly water with a little oatmeal.
When Mayr said women won the right to vote in 1920, the students, “booed.”
Duckworth called the students to order. “Boys and girls, I don’t know if you are not understanding, but you all cheered when the women were put in jail simply because they wanted to vote,” he said. “Then they got the right to vote, and you all said, ‘Boo,’ and that’s not good. Your mothers today can vote because those ladies went to jail and were not treated very well. I think you misunderstood what she was saying.”
Duckworth advised the students to listen carefully. He said voting is one of the things that make America great.
MAYR ENDED HER TALK by saying, “I’ve voted every election since I was 21,” she said. People now can start voting at 18.
She warned against anyone believing their vote won’t make a difference. Women won this right by one vote in Congress. Americans speak English instead of German because of one vote, she said.
Duckworth said a few votes made the difference in the election between George Bush and Al Gore. “For the first time in our country, we weren’t sure who was president,” he said.
Mims and Duckworth encouraged the students to go with their parents to the voting booths. “It’s very important to … vote in all the elections,” the principal said. “It affects everything we do.”
He said the topic was tied to reading. “You are going to hear a lot about voting as you go through Reading Month. … You’ll be voting for your favorite authors. And all this is going to be in preparation of you voting for your elected officials who will represent you in our government.”