News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 24, 2019
Sedgwick students elect Planet President
Who will best tackle climate change?


Sedgwick middle school students react to candidate responses during a mock presidential debate October 16, held in the historical society’s one room school house.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Middle schoolers got a crash course in civics October 16 when students held a mock election debate and then cast ballots to elect Planet President based on candidates responses to climate change issues. English language arts and social studies teacher Dolphin Thalhauser created the project as a hands-on example of civic engagement for her students.

During the debate, five candidates for Planet President—so named because the students wanted to address climate issues on a global level—responded to climate questions.

“The climate change topic fits into a cross-curricular activity that we are doing in ELA and STEAM called “Writing for a Cause,” Thalhauser said. “The debate was the beginning of that research.”

The candidates and the debate questioners, all eighth graders, were chosen for their seniority and “because as eighth graders, they will be moving on to high school soon and therefore need more practice with public speaking in different settings,” Thalhauser said.

Questions ranged from how the candidate would address sea level rise and the rapid loss of species to slowing deforestation and the proliferation of plastic products.

Then, voters and candidates traipsed from the one-room schoolhouse at the Sedgwick-Brooklin Historical Society across N. Sedgwick Road to the Town Hall, for a crash course in the mechanics of voting from Sedgwick town meeting moderator David Anderson.

Finally, it was time to vote! After having their names checked off by the ballot clerk, the young voters stepped into the polling booths, and then deposited their ballots in the ballot box.

Naturally, ranked choice voting was used, and students learned firsthand what happens in a tie.

During the first run, [Rylee Dorr] was tied with another candidate, but after we did two elimination rounds (eliminating candidates with the lowest number of votes and counting their voters second-choice votes), she won the majority,” Thalhauser said.

As President Planet, Dorr will help lead school activities in recycling and researching biodegradable snack containers, Thalhauser said, “but in our imaginary world she rules the world in leading the climate change battle.”

Dorr proposed cutting down carbon pollution “greatly and do it soon,” along with recycling, discouraging the use of plastics, and thinking before using products that could hurt animal species survival.

Her solution for a rising sea level? “I want to help people move to a better home where they won’t get flooded and where the water level won’t take over their house.”

In honor of the mock election, and as a wearable reminder, students designed sweatshirts stating: “As a Sedgwick citizen I promise to vote!”

Thalhauser said: “I believe actually having experienced voting and making a pledge to do so makes one of the biggest impacts in remembering when it comes time to register [to vote].”