Riverside Christian School students get real-life taste of U.S. election

Students learn about the voting process in lessons simulating democracy in action.

Mia Trainer, a first-grader, emerges from a voting booth with her ballot in hand, as sixth-graders, serving as Secret Service agents, oversee the process at Riverside Christian School on Tuesday, Nov. 3. The project, led by middle school students, was part of the "Pathways to the Presidency" course to help students better understand the U.S. election process. (Photo by Pamela Knudson / Grand Forks Herald)

It’s not only adults who were voting in the Grand Cities on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Students at Riverside Christian School in East Grand Forks also were voting -- in actual red-white-and-blue voting booths and with ballots they designed and created.

For this electorate, students handed out the ballots while other students dressed as Secret Service agents, complete with black suits and dark aviator glasses, solemnly stood guard at the voting booths, keeping a watchful eye on the voting process.

Election Day 2020 is the culmination of a seven-week course, called “Pathways to the Presidency,” led by middle school history teacher Louanne Zejdlik. She invited retired Col. Barbara Chine, who was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, to give weekly talks to her classes at Riverside Christian School.

The information about voting and U.S. democracy that Chine shared with students made a lasting impression, Zejdlik said.


It gave middle and high students more insight as they took a “deep dive” into the history of the U.S. election process -- from candidacy and party platforms to the logistics of the Electoral College and how it affects election outcomes.

They learned about qualifications necessary to run for the presidency, about primary caucuses and political conventions. They learned about the requirements necessary for residents to vote.

If students filled in two boxes for the same office, they learned, their vote was disqualified.

Students earned extra credit if they watched this fall’s presidential debates, Zejdlik said.

The middle school students, in grades six through eight, collaborated to design and build voting booths and authentic-looking ballots for all-school voting. Ballots for the youngest voters included candidates’ photos.

Voting booths were built for each elementary grade level and decorated with balloons and signage. Some featured tunnel-like crawl spaces where the children could nestle into a beanbag and fill out their ballots in private. The kindergarteners’ booth even included a slide the kids could slide down, as part of the voting experience.

“For the ‘littles,’ it makes it more fun,” Zejdlik said.


They designed “I voted” stickers to hand out, along with a treat, to classmates after voting.

The older students also created age-appropriate PowerPoint presentations about the voting process that they presented to the elementary school students, according to Zejdlik, who described their presentations as “amazing.”

Students’ reaction to the “Pathways to the Presidency” course has been uniformly positive, Zejdlik said.

“They’re over the top," said Zejdlik, adding that some students told her they’ve even explained to their parents on how the Electoral College functions.

“I’m sure they know more than I do now about the Electoral College,” Principal Cindy Waind quipped.

During the course of the project, no particular candidate or political viewpoint was advocated for, Zejdlik said. And students were discouraged from trying to sway each other; they were encouraged to talk with their parents about differing perspectives.

The students “really embraced” this project, said Valerie Fulcher, marketing and events coordinator for the school. “They took it seriously.”

“Students are our future,” Zejdlik said. “If they understand the (voting) process, it’s better for them.”


Unlike the actual election, results of the voluntary voting at Riverside Christian School, with an enrollment of 173, were readily available at the end of the school day.

A total of 137 votes were cast at the school, she said.

“Our students voted 120 for Trump, and 17 voted for Biden," she said.

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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