Kids report on the presidential race

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps has 80-plus members ages 10 to 14 from all over the United States.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Fifth-Grade Reporters: Hana Knowles, Zachary Speigel, and Nua Toy-Giles (clockwise from right) of Concord, N.H., members of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps, cover a rally for Barack Obama.
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    Covering the campaign: Peter Newland watches his video camera monitor at the Obama rally.
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    Covering the campaign: Zachary Speigel gets the opportunity to ask the candidate a question.
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Have you tuned in yet to the race for president? If the record-breaking voter turnout and close-call primaries haven't been enough to hold your attention, consider this: Amid the pack of journalists at the debates, campaign rallies, and victory parties, students your age are reporting the whole scene from a kid's perspective.

Outfitted in bright red shirts and armed with microphones and notebooks, the Scholastic Kids Press Corps has 80-plus members ages 10 to 14 from all over the United States.

Their stories at Scholastic News Online (www.scholastic.com/election2008) include everything from the candidates' ideas about education to interviews with their children.

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They'll even tell you about behind-the-scenes stuff, like a security dog sniffing its way down a line of people before an event.

Before they started, the Kid Reporters got tips from professionals about how to cover a story. But it's up to them to come up with questions and write up what they hear and see. (See the questions in the box at the top of the next page.)

"The first time [I was] trying to speak to a candidate, I was nervous and it was difficult for me," says Hana Knowles, a fifth-grader at Beaver Meadow Elementary School in Concord, N.H.

She thought it would be scary, but when she started talking to the candidates at a debate, "it felt like just talking to [an ordinary] person," she says. "They treated me nicer, because they let me have extra questions, but other than that, I think they treated me like a real reporter."

That's because she is a real one. "Their copy [another word for story] is treated just like any other professional journalist's copy is treated," says Suzanne Freeman, editor of Scholastic News Online.

Sometimes the kid reporters turn heads as they set up alongside much taller journalists. Photographers focus cameras on them, but these novice newshounds keep focused on their mission.

A few days before the New Hampshire primary, Hana and three of her fellow fifth-grade reporters attended a rally for Sen. Barack Obama at Concord High School. They propped up tripods and video cameras on two corners of an elevated platform for the press, and waited.

This day they arrived early enough to stake out a good spot. But student videographer Peter Newland says his most challenging moment during the fall campaign came during a John McCain event. There he had to struggle to hold the camera high enough to film over people's heads.

Peter says he enjoys telling other students about the presidential candidates because "the president will affect your future.... They could make it better; they could make it worse. It helps if you watch those types of things."

His classmate Zachary Speigel recalls asking McCain about the rising cost of college: "I asked this huge, five-minute question about education, and he was just stunned and said, 'How old are you?' " Zachary says with a wide-eyed laugh.

McCain went on to answer "that we definitely need to at least try to put the prices down, because kids like us need a good education," he says.

Many student reporters have told Ms. Freeman that they're disappointed the candidates aren't talking more about education. "They say to me, 'They must think NCLB [the federal No Child Left Behind law] is working,' " she says.

Freeman selects kid reporters based on the originality of essays they write about their communities.

"I look for the kids that go beyond [descriptions of] tourist attractions," she says. One student stood out by writing about Portland, Ore., as a bicycle city, with all the issues that raises, such as bike safety and environmental benefits.

Freeman gives them a run-down on how media events work and the basics of interviewing. Some of the key lessons: Look people in the eye. Never ask a question that can be answered with just a "yes" or a "no." Report the facts, not your opinion or emotions after hearing a charismatic speaker.

True to their training as objective journalists, the kids in New Hampshire wouldn't let on if they had any favorites in the race for president.

The idea of having kids do the reporting for Scholastic came to Freeman during the presidential race in 2000. The first kid reporters were from Beaver Meadow, where principal Roger Brooks had already trained some students to do local reporting.

Now the Scholastic Kids Press Corps reports on other news, too, not just elections. "They're really now like the bureau chiefs for Scholastic News and Junior Scholastic magazine," Freeman says. "They've interviewed [Supreme Court] Chief Justice John Roberts and Tom Cruise – the whole gamut."

As music pumped up the crowd at the Obama event, the red-shirted foursome scanned the crowds for good photos. They barely took notice as a snowman walked by – they'd seen him at other election events, trying to draw attention to global warming.

Principal Brooks, a tall man wearing an American flag tie, occasionally helped with equipment, but otherwise he stood back and watched.

"When they think back at the Beaver Meadow experience, I want them to think of days like this and ... kind of crystallize their whole experience of being an elementary school student," Brooks says. "The most important thing we teach in elementary school is communication skills.... Being an actor on stage, giving a speech, coming out and asking a question ... [in those situations] the learning stays with the kids a lot longer."

Soon a collective cheer bubbled up from the audience and all eyes were on Obama. The kid reporters listened for him to address any of their questions during his speech, occasionally writing notes in their reporters' pads – or in Zachary's case, on a brown lunch bag. (Even the best reporters sometimes forget their notebooks!)

When the speech ended, they found out there would be no press conference. Their only choice was to join the crowd up at the rail to try to get Obama's attention as he made his way out.

It was a tense few minutes as Zachary and fellow reporter Nua Toy-Giles wormed their way through the pack. Hana opted to head up to the bleachers where she could get a good view.

Obama stopped to talk to several people as he inched his way toward the kids. Finally, they caught his eye, and he leaned down to hear Zach's question.

When Zach and Nua emerged, their principal's face was beaded with sweat from the excitement and the exertion of holding the video camera high above the crowd.

As Zach caught his breath, he shared Obama's answer to his question, the first one they always ask candidates: Why should my parents vote for you? "He told me he's very good at bringing people together ... to agree on things like healthcare. And he said he's a very honest man, too."

The kid reporters had time for a short break before heading to a Mitt Romney event at a local restaurant. Over the weekend, they'd be busy writing up their stories.

On Feb. 5, known in election lingo as Super Tuesday, another set of kid reporters will be busy keeping tabs on the primary elections in other states.

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps will continue its coverage through the general election in November. They'll even write about the inauguration of the new president in 2009.

Who knows, maybe when the 2012 presidential election rolls around, you'll be one of those red-shirted reporters yourself!

1. To be elected president of the United States, a candidate must receive _____ electoral votes.

a. 266

b. 270

c. 271

d. 279

2. The voting of the people is called the _______ vote.

a. electoral

b. popular

c. majority

d. state

3. The first political party in the United States was called the ________ Party.

a. Democratic

b. Republican

c. Federalist

d. Colonialist

4. The Green Party formed as a result of the _______ movement.

a. feminist

b. environmental

c. equal rights

d. civil rights

5. To serve as president of the United States, a candidate must be at least ___ years old.

a. 35

b. 40

c. 45

d. 50

6. Americans vote for the US president on election day, which occurs every four years in early _______.

a. September

b. October

c. November

d. December

7. The first primary was held in _________ in 1868.

a. Virginia

b. Georgia

c. Massachusetts

d. Pennsylvania

Source: www.scholastic.com

Scholastic News: © 2008 1. (b) 270

2. (b) popular

3. (c) Federalist

4. (b) environmental

5. (a) 35

6. (c) November

7. (d) Pennsylvania

Kids' questions for the candidates

These questions were prepared by Scholastic Kid Reporters for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a few days before the primaries in New Hampshire:

1. Why should my parents vote for you?

2. What is your plan for renewable energy, not including nuclear power?

3. How would you make sure that all children get a good education?

4. Where do you think you received most of your education: in a classroom or real life?

5. If you could go back to any grade, what would it be and why?

6. What inspired you to run for president?

7. I'm really worried about the war in Iraq and the threat from Iran. What are your plans for keeping America safe?

8. What cause do you feel is the main focus of your campaign?

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