By John Toole
---- — PELHAM — The hard-fought campaign had come down to this, a last chance to sway the voters before they cast ballots.
Zach Warren walked to the front of the room, knowing Madison Robito had just delivered the speech of her life.
She had executed a last-minute gamble, playing the gender card.
“Girls can be leaders, too,” Madison said, appealing to the feminine bloc in her fifth-grade classroom.
Zach, bearing a populist message, pointed a finger at his classmates, asking what they wanted of their Student Council.
He politely dismissed a suggestion far too big for Pelham Elementary School.
“Something we can do something about,” Zach said, appealing for an issue that really would matter and make a difference in their young lives.
The voters spoke, demanding better school lunches.
Zach concurred, said the right things, then in the spirit of the best politicians, moved the election along to the ballot box.
“I’m your man,” Zach told the voters.
Voters across America went to the polls yesterday, but few experienced the democratic process in quite the spirited way of the students at Pelham Elementary.
Twenty-eight candidates contested 13 seats on the Student Council. There were 172 eligible voters.
Special education case manager Lauren Hall is helping to reinstate the council after its absence for several years.
“They will be responsible for fundraising, community events, trained to do announcements, organizing the fifth-grade event at the end of the year when they celebrate their leaving the school,” Hall said.
A former Pelham student herself, Hall served as the student government president at Rivier University in Nashua.
She has set a high standard for the council.
She called for councilors to be role models for the school, behaving well inside the classroom and out, showing respect for others and having a positive attitude.
“I really wanted to start this for them,” Hall said. “They will get experience and a lot of opportunities out of this.”
One of the first is learning about politics.
Hall has emphasized this isn’t a popularity contest.
“It’s not your best friend,” she said of a good representative. “It’s the person who has the same thoughts as you.”
The candidates had to write a one- or two-page paper listing their qualities as a leader, describing a leadership experience or reflecting on a leader they admire.
Jackelyn Cawthorn wrote about her principal, Thomas Adamakos.
“Even though he has a lot of responsibility at home and at Pelham Elementary School, he always finds the time to make every student at my school feel important, happy and welcomed,” she wrote.
Jake Herrling wrote about his experience as quarterback of the Pelham Razorbacks football team.
After casting his ballot, Jake spoke about his reasons for running for the council.
“I’ll help people when things go bad, make good decisions and try to be nice to everyone,” he said.
Some candidates had campaign memorabilia.
Madison showed off the campaign button she made.
“It says, ‘Vote for me,’” Madison said with a smile.
Madison, Zach and Jake all were elected.
So were Casey McKeon, Maria Dagher, Nicole Paquette, Dylan and Sydney Nutter, Emily Michaud, Elise Baisley, Elizabeth Hodge, Jacklyn Harvey and Alex Pedi.
In many ways, this was like a real election.
Teacher Celine Jordan made her students register to vote, though she said she didn’t demand they provide a voter ID.
Teagan Allen was among those who sat down to fill out her ballot in Jordan’s classroom behind a screen decorated with images of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the Statue of Liberty.
“Ms. Jordan made it seem professional,” Hall said.
In classroom after classroom, Hall carefully explained to students how to vote.
“Voting is personal. You don’t have to put your name at the top. We’re really private about it,” she said.
Answering a question in one room, she responded that, no, a voter could not give two votes to the same candidate.
Council representatives were chosen by classroom. An uncontested seat provided confusion for the voters.
“They looked at me blankly when I explained that,” Hall said. “This is fifth grade. They’ve had no experience with any type of leadership program.”
That’s all about to change. The council is expected to convene this week, though there are no plans for an inaugural ball.
Hall expects they will be making a difference very soon.
She said students are excited by discussions of a nature classroom being started at the school.
“The student council will have something to say about it,” she said.