ABC News ‘Nightline’ Visits Redbank Valley

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT) – Redbank Valley Middle School teacher Joe Harmon got a surprise two weeks ago when he was contacted by ABC News Nightline producers wanting to cover the school’s mock election.

The network developed a segment titled “How is the election being taught in American classrooms?” and made arrangements to film at Redbank Valley’s mock election set for Wednesday, October 26.

“It was a quick turnaround,” said Harmon, who teaches eighth grade civics. “I got a call from the network two weeks ago. They wanted to cover a ‘battleground’ state, and Pennsylvania is the perfect example of that.”

Harmon was contacted for the segment due to his position on the iCivics board. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics is a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and encourage them to become active in the U.S. democracy.

Assigned to cover this year’s election, Nightline anchor Terry Moran and his two-person camera crew arrived at Redbank Valley High School early Wednesday morning. They filmed Harmon’s civics class before covering the election in the school’s auditorium as part of their “Inside the Final 30” election series.

“We look for stories either with candidates themselves…or we look for specific stories that we think tell us something about the country and this campaign,” said Moran in explaining how Redbank Valley High School was chosen for the news segment.

Mike Fricko and Pat Bundy’s broadcast journalism class also covered the mock election, interviewing various students and creating a promo to air throughout the school. Fricko said Clarion County Courthouse will distribute the promo to other local schools to teach them how mock elections operate.

ABC News Nightline films inside Redbank Valley High School auditorium as student election board members look on.

ABC News Nightline films inside Redbank Valley High School auditorium as student election board members look on.

Nearly 520 students, grades 7 – 12, voted in the school’s first “authentic” mock election, set up and run by Blane Gold’s senior AP government class. About two months ago, Gold contacted Cindy Callahan, director of elections in Clarion County, and asked for her help in running a mock election.

Director of elections Cindy Callahan and Daniel Chalupsky, of ElectionIQ, LLC, instruct students on the voting machines.

Director of elections Cindy Callahan and Daniel Chalupsky, of ElectionIQ, LLC, instruct students on the voting machines.

Three voting machines were brought in, and Gold’s 15 students conducted the election, working as election board members and moving students through the poll line.

The election was made as realistic as possible, with board members being sworn in by Callahan. Gold warned students before voting that no electioneering or endorsement was allowed inside the auditorium. Students had the choice of voting for either of the two main party candidates as well as candidates from the Libertarian, Green or Constitution parties.

Political posters line the outside of Redbank Valley High School's auditorium.

Political posters line the outside of Redbank Valley High School’s auditorium.

“With myself teaching seniors, I always try to emphasize things that are going to help them later in life, outside the academic realm,” Gold commented. “I have a lot of students who are 18 who are voting for the first time, so if they can become more aware of the situation, they can go in the voting booth in two weeks and know what they are doing.”

Broadcast journalism student Macy King interviews senior Branden Truitt on his political stance.

Broadcast journalism student Macy King interviews senior Branden Truitt on his political stance.

Prior to the mock election, Gold’s students were required to make campaign posters, political cartoons, and promotional commercials. He said that this election has created numerous discussions in his classroom, and he has seen great political interest in his students.

“It’s a great time to teach government, and I can say whether you’re a fan or not of the rhetoric, without a doubt, it has drawn in much more attention of young people,” Gold said.

AP government student Ryan Moore agreed with Gold’s sentiment, saying he has become more aware of U.S. politics through his work on the mock election.

“More schools should get involved in stuff like this – having mock elections, getting younger people involved – because government is important, and [young people] are the future of it,” Moore said.

Nightline’s Moran summed up the event’s apparent success, stating that students’ excitement added a bright spot to this season’s presidential election.

“What has struck me here is that in a campaign season, which has really been quite negative, and which polls show many Americans are kind of sick of it – it’s been kind of depressing – the enthusiasm, the genuineness and the intelligence of the kids here and how they’re conducting this mock election – it’s a feel good story in a year when there aren’t many feel good stories,” Moran said.

The results of the mock election are as follows:

Ballots cast: 415

Hillary Clinton – 48
Donald J. Trump – 340
Darrell L. Castle – 1
Jill Stein – 6
Gary Johnson – 14
There were five write-ins including one for former democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The segment is set to air on ABC News Nightline at 12:35 a.m. A specific air date is unknown at this time.

Redbank Valley High School would like to thank Cindy Callahan and Daniel Chalupsky for their cooperation and help in putting on the mock election.


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