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W.Va. Honors High Voter Registration Among High School Seniors

HUNDRED — Seniors at Hundred High School are planning a field trip in early May to the courthouse to cast early ballots in the 2020 primary election.

Elsewhere in Wetzel County, seniors at Paden City High School are excited to head to the polls to vote for their civics teacher — a candidate for Paden City mayor.

Hundred and Paden City high schools, along with Cameron High School in Marshall County and Weir High School in Hancock County, all have 100 percent of their senior class registered to vote, and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office is taking notice.

The schools are among 24 in the state being honored with the Jennings Randolph Award at the gold level.

Randolph is a former U.S. Senator from West Virginia who starting in 1942 lobbied for changing the national voting age from 21 to 18 so that those who could be called into military combat would be eligible to vote. Over the next 30 years he would go on to fight for the right of 18-year-olds to vote. He would champion the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which lowered the voting age after being passed in 1972.

Hundred High School history teacher Hannah Sapp said that in her history classes, she stresses to students the importance of their being informed about political issues.

She provides the students with information about the major issues, and there is discussion about the differing political thoughts on how to address problems.

“We discuss the different parties, and decide which one they want to register with,” she said.

There is a local trend among students registering to vote, according to local teachers. Most are registering as Republican.

Sapp said she has 25 senior students, and the overwhelming majority registered as Republican or non-party.

She agreed that while the students are registered to vote, that doesn’t mean they will cast ballots this year or continue in following elections.

“We definitely need to do a better job having them keep up with the practice after they graduate,” she said. “We do have a plan for May. We’re going to be taking a school bus to the courthouse to early vote.”

The school has a close relationship with retired educator Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, and he often visits their classroom. Sapp said he often is called to substitute for her when she can’t be there.

At Paden City High School, civics teacher Bill Bell said his class is about “teaching government in action.” His students responded by encouraging him to run for mayor of Paden City this year.

There are 35 seniors in the school, and they expressed interest in registering to vote and casting ballots for him in 2020.

“They know I like talking about government,” he said. “They had been asking me about registering to vote, so one day we took the time and had everybody do it. We passed out the cards and did it in the classroom.”

The school’s prevention resource officer took the voter registration cards to the courthouse in New Martinsville.

“A lot of them intend to vote, but some said they wouldn’t,” Bell said. “Some said they just wanted to vote for (President Donald) Trump in the presidential race, and some said they were just going to vote in the Paden City mayor’s race.

“I told them I don’t care what side you fall on. I just want to see you get involved.”

At Cameron High School, teacher Jake Zirkle said there is much political discussion in his civics course. The school has about 50 seniors.

“It’s an election year, and the kids are fairly interested in what is going on,” he said. “So we did a voter registration drive. I told them to bring in their documentation, and they did it all in one day…

“A good majority are planning to vote from what I can tell. I hope so.”

At Weir High School, 159 seniors registered to vote, according to civics teacher David Thompson.

He worked with seniors Olivia Dowle and Sarah Hudacheck to organize the drive. The team put up posters, spoke to classes, and organized with Hancock County commissioners and a voter registration committee to come register students to vote.

“We called the seniors down in groups of 25, and the students were voluntarily interested in registering to vote,” he said. “With the Trump (impeachment) situation, most lean conservative.

“The kids seem to like having Trump as president. I don’t know if it is the controversy, or what it is.”

Each of the schools recognized with the gold Jennings Randolph Award have been invited to send a teacher and two students to Charleston for a day at the legislature, during which time the students will granted “honorary secretary of state” status.

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