Myrtle Beach fifth-graders present their own presidential debate

Two fifth-grade classes at Burgess Elementary School on Monday presented their own version of the 2012 Presidential debates to parents, guests and fellow students, who were able to cast their votes when all was said and done.

The format allowed speakers to represent the views of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on four issues – healthcare, national defense, the economy and education. Moderators posed three questions per issue, and each speaker was given 1 minute to respond to each.

The mock debate was created over the last month by the students of Anila Patel and Ron Satterley as a Gifted and Talented, English language arts project, Patel said. The teachers assigned students to political teams and gave them basic information on the four issues, which were drawn from a hat. Beyond that, she said, the students were in charge.

“We want to teach these kids to make all their own decisions,” said Patel, and there were a lot that had to be made.

Patel said each team voted on their campaign managers, who needed to take charge and know a bit about all the issues. The two moderators were charged with meeting with each group and composing their questions, which ranged from “What is your budget for healthcare?” to “How will you make the standards higher for students?” and “Will you repeal No Child Left Behind?”

The teams had to cooperate and work together to do their own research, including fact-checking and analyzing text for bias, as well as discuss what they found, compose their team’s point of view and practice their performances. The students also put together programs and made a video that told the audience, “This wasn’t something that happened overnight.”

Everyone had to audition to be a speaker, even if, like Jenna Tucci, they didn’t want the job.

“I was very nervous and didn’t want to go in front of all these people,” said Jenna, who in the end was the Democratic speaker on the economy issue and said she felt really good about going through with the performance.

“We found some real diamonds in the rough,” Patel said of some of their reluctant speakers.

Jenna went up against her buddy, Andrea Caddle, who took the Republican view of the economy. Andrea, whom Patel said is the outspoken one of the two, was losing her voice during the debate, but she soldiered through and whispered that she had enjoyed it. The girls said they learned a lot from being in the debate, and that it is important to choose the candidate who has the best information and will do the job best.

Satterley said the students worked tirelessly on the project, coming in early, working at home, and that they showed a lot of self-sufficiency.

“We tried to give them the overall picture and let them run with it,” he said.

Following the mock debate, audience members were given codes to cast an online vote with either their cell phone or with iPads that were set up for both students and adults. Satterley said he set up the vote through, an online site he has been using since the first day of school.

Satterley said more than 300 people participated in the voting, with 56 percent choosing Romney and 44 percent for Obama.

Many of the parents on hand said they were proud of all the children’s work and that the project was a great learning tool.

“Every role was important,” said Danielle Elliott, whose daughter, Madison Estes, was a Republican campaign manager. “She was so excited and talked about it at home. She asked her stepfather for help and her older brother.”

“I thought this was a great idea so they can understand both sides,” said Watson Felder, whose daughter, Maddie Felder, also was a Republican campaign manager. “We have talked about [the election] at home, and she’s asked just as many questions on both sides of the issues.”