Students Travel to Pennsylvania for Hands-On Election Experience

Photos courtesy of Ms. Dancy and Emily Shen: Clockwise from top left: Mr. Madin helps Stephen Rothman ’17 with his Medium piece; James Torre ’17, Max Margiotta ’17 and Peter Solimine ’17 prepare to help Trump to victory; a group of Clinton supporters gather for a selfie at her rally in New York City

PENNSYLVANIA— From Nov. 6 to Nov. 8, approximately 140 AP Government and Politics and Journalism students traveled to Pennsylvania to experience the political process in a hotly contested swing state. AP Government students canvassed and phone banked to support the candidate of their choice, while Journalism students worked on three distinct projects over the three day period.

For AP Government students, garnering support for their candidate meant walking around neighborhoods and knocking on doors. The first neighborhoods they visited were in the greater Philadelphia area, and mainly lower-class. In these neighborhoods, the students had to interact with people from significantly different walks of life, which exposed them to new and different perspectives.

Ray Marzalek ’17, a volunteer for Clinton, stated that “The trip taught me how we live in a little bubble here in Westchester.” On the first day in greater Philadelphia, he canvassed in a diverse lowerclass neighborhood, where he was “often met with hostility” until he revealed that he was supporting Clinton. According to Marzalek, the residents “were extremely grateful” when they learned that he was supporting the Democratic nominee. This perhaps reflects the enthusiasm Clinton received in and around the city of Philadelphia.

On the third day of the trip students went to Lackawanna County, an area historically known for its steel and mining industries. In contrast to Philadelphia, Clinton supporters were much less abundant, and as a result Marzalek and his fellow canvassers were met with much less enthusiasm. As he described, “Initially we had our Hillary stickers on, but we soon received threats by people going by…Even though we only knocked on the doors of those the party assumed were democrats, people told us to be careful and watch our backs.”

Despite the polarization that Marzalek encountered, other students actually thought that Pennsylvanians were more open to differing opinions than New Yorkers. According to Peter Solimine ’17, a Trump volunteer, “my group was stopped by many people who genuinely wanted to know why we supported our candidate.” He went on to say that his group “was not called names and treated fairly, even by those who supported Clinton.” As a result of the curiosity he was met with, Solimine believes that, in contrast to other areas, “people in swing states are much more politically involved.”

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Photo courtesy of Emily Shen: Emily Engel ’17, Molly Nodiff ’17 and Tommy Spero ’17 sit down to take a break from a busy day of reporting

A common takeaway for students in AP Government seemed to be that Westchester really is different from many areas of the country. As Marzalek said, “Sometimes here in Larchmont we think of how we live and then the inner city, but you forget about these lower class suburbs and these towns of rural America.”

While AP Government students were traversing these areas, Journalism students were seeking to understand them. To gain understanding, members of the Mamaroneck Associated Press interviewed citizens throughout Pennsylvania. They traveled with the AP Government students, working in a diverse set of locations. Mirroring trends in modern journalism, students told their stories across a different medium in each project they completed. “People of Pennsylvania” focused on photography, “Street Soundz” involved creating a five minute audio story and in “On the Beat” students wrote an online story- -utilizing pictures, audio and links to sources.

For many Journalism students, going out on their own and interviewing real voters was a new experience. One student, Max Plonsker ’17, found that it was “very rewarding” to have “adults take us seriously and give us respect as journalists” and “really cool” to get “an authentic experience beyond our classroom setting.” The trip was indeed a unique experience, as students were able to conduct interviews at polling sites and talk to people on the streets like professional journalists often do.

Similar to students in AP Government, Plonsker also gained insight on people outside of the Westchester. He stated that it was “eye opening” to go to different areas and “see how people are focused on issues that are different than the ones people are focused on here,” while adding that “it definitely provides a sense of perspective for me as someone who has lived in this area my whole life.” The work of Plonsker and other Journalism students can be found by going to the “Mamaroneck Associated Press” page on medium.com.

To complement the real experience students were getting, Mr. Madin and Mr. Liberti scheduled evening lectures with political science professors at local colleges and universities. The first of these lectures took place at Swarthmore College, where political science professor Ben Berger gave students a lecture on student engagement. Zoe Skutaris ’17, a journalism student, stated that Berger’s lecture was enjoyable because “he really answered our questions and helped us think outside the box politically.” According to Skutaris, his lessons were also helpful in understanding America’s political system, which was one of the goals of the trip as a whole.

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Photo courtesy of Emily Shen: Emily Renner ’17 and Colin Johanson ’17 prepare for a day of reporting

In addition to Berger’s lecture, students on the trip attended one of three talks during their second night in Pennsylvania. Journalism students interacted with Dr. Christopher Borick, Director of Muhlenberg College’s polling center, while students in AP Government either learned about takeaways from the campaign from professor Anthony DiMaggio at Lehigh University, or Pennsylvania’s status as a swing state from professor Mallory SoRelle at Lafayette College.

On the last night of the trip, a group of Clinton supporters from both the AP Government and Journalism classes was able to attend her rally at the Javits Center in New York City. Though students were not able physically to enter the building, they were able to follow the results along with throngs of Clinton supporters just outside. While students were in attendance- -they left the rally at approximately 10 P.M.–the atmosphere was positive, with supporters cheering and MHS students starting chants whenever Clinton won a state. According to Sam Sarkozi ’17, “there was no real panic apparent outside with the Hillary supporters. That only set in when we were back on the bus and realized that Trump was likely going to win.”

Though the majority of AP Government students, which was made up of Clinton volunteers, was not, in the end, able to swing the vote for their candidate, AP Government teacher Mr. Liberti still believed that the trip was successful. Students were able to learn more about the political process, seeing how campaigns organize themselves, while also learning about themselves by “going door to door and talking to potential voters about the candidate they support.” Since students gained firsthand experience, they were able to see how volunteering for campaigns makes a difference in the election. A goal of the trip was to prove to students that they can make a difference in politics, thus encouraging them to participate in the future.

According to Mr. Madin, who teaches Journalism, the Journalism students also had a successful experience. Reporting in Pennsylvania gave students an authentic experience, which allowed them “to grow, see politics differently and see America differently.” In addition, the experience enabled students “to appreciate journalism as a vocation,” while also understanding that “elections are serious and people have very conflicting views.”

The AP Government and Journalism trip taught students about people and politics in a different part of the country. Students left with a broader view of America and experiences they will remember for years to come.

By Jack Mollin

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