Loudoun Valley High School seniors who volunteered once they found out their teacher would be working at the polls on March 1: pictured (l to r), Haley Crosser, Justin Taylor, U.S. Gov and History Teacher Kimberly Vegliante, Joseph Stephens, Jordan Croson. Photo by Gazette.
By Liz Tenney Jarvis.
March 1, Super Tuesday, was just that for Loudoun County Public School students who had no classes, but even more so for those high school seniors who registered to vote, taking their first steps into adulthood. The Loudoun County Public School system worked together with the County’s Office of Elections in order to conduct a 2015-2016 High School Voter Registration Program. The program, partnering with the county’s high school social science teachers, ensured that students understood the voting process and made them aware of the voter registration deadlines. Students who would be 18 years old by November 8, 2016 were allowed to register to vote in the March 1, 2016 Presidential Primary if they met the registration deadline of February 8, 2016. Through the High School Voter Registration Program, more than 2,100 high school seniors who were eligible to vote in the March 1 primary were registered.
This was the first year for the Office of Elections’ Loudoun outreach program. In previous years, The League of Women Voters would hold the high school registrations for the Office of Elections. Jennifer Beckley, Outreach Coordinator for the Loudoun County Office of Elections, talked about the manner in which young voters were once educated and registered: “In previous years, the Voter Registration Office prepared the applications and materials for the League of Women voters to register the students. They picked up the materials and did their best to schedule with each school in the county. This process took five to six months, January through May. After each presentation, a volunteer would stop by the County Registration Office and drop off the daily registration forms from the school classes they registered. In 2014, the League successfully registered 1,062 students in five months. Our office asked the Board of Supervisors to recognize the League for their many years of service to the students and schools, which they did. There was a presentation given by BOS Chairman Scott York to the Chairman of the League, Priscilla Godfrey and Jean Brown in 2015.”
According to Beckley, the outreach program got its start with William Brazier, Supervisor of Social Science and Global Studies at LCPS’ Administration Building. Beckley and Loudoun County General Registrar Judy Brown had a meeting with Brazier in May 2015 to discuss the idea of voter registration in the schools and partnering with the social science teachersâ€”trying to get into every high school.
Beckley states, “He loved the idea but said it was a decision that was beyond him and directed us to Ms. Nereida C. Gonzalez-Sales, Director of Education. Judy Brown and I both reached out to her and we were then invited to attend an October 14, 2015 Principals meeting to pitch the program. We attended the meeting with the Principals, and after the November 3, 2015 election we heard from the Stone Bridge High School and Loudoun Valley High School Principals â€¦ they wanted in the program.”
Beckley believes it was smart for the both schools, as “we were able to have senior assemblies and get the students excited before Christmas break – these schools missed the snow storm and their students got registered.”
Beckley says they went with a “youthful approach” and presented a powerpoint presentation and ceremony to the schools. The presentation highlights included an education covering such topics as: Why Should We Vote?, Importance of Voting, How To Register To Vote, When To Vote, Absentee Voting, and a ceremonial oath and registration statement as a conclusion to the program. The timing of the presentation also hit home for seniors as many prepare to leave high school.
For those leaving Loudoun County to pursue further education, Beckley makes the point that students must learn about the voting process: “They must know how to absentee vote and stay civically engaged while away at school.” Beckley cites an example, saying, “They go off to school and end up registering in Harrisonburg or Charlottesville when their parents are living in Loudoun and paying taxes in Loudoun. Students come home for break and show up at their polling locations, sometimes with their parents and try to vote. However, they are stilled registered back at school.Â If they were registered in high school and voted absentee while away, they would have stayed engaged and never would have compromised their vote or had to have been told they cannot vote because ‘youâ€™re registered in the wrong county.’ It happens too much, but we can fix this. This is why our partnership with the high schools is so vital.Â Educating the students about voting is a lifelong lesson.”
An example of this lifelong lesson might be Betty Sue Longerbeam, who graduated from Loudoun County HS in 1956 and has been the Chief Election Officer in Philomont for 40 years. Beckley states, “She is loved by everyone because she does so much good work.”
Eight years ago, when Presidential Primaries were held, there was a youth movement as well, as the County’s Office of Elections indicates: “Students were actively engaged, running voter drives and going door to door. What we are seeing with this election are large registration enrollment, students are signing up to work as Election Officers â€¦ so are their parents! When the voter card shows up in the mail notifying the student they are registered to vote, we insert a flyer stating we need election officers to work on Election Day, and we pay $145 for the service. Parents are getting informed and signing up as well.Â Teachers are telling us that students are bringing their voter cards into school and telling their teachers that they plan to go to the polls with their folks on March 1st. How cool is that?”
Students who worked at the polls during this year’s Presidential Primary included four Loudoun Valley High School seniors, who arrived at 5am in order to work a full-day shift, until 9pm, with their 12th grade U.S. Government and History Teacher Kimberly Vegliante. The students thoroughly enjoyed their work as Election Officers. Their collective opinion was that, as Vegliante said, “The experience allowed them to see the vast diversity in Purcellville. It was great to meet members of the community in which they live. Students also agreed hands down that this was one of the most educational experiences they have ever had. For the first time they actually lived through what they were learning about in class and it feels great to understand the process first-hand.” Participating in the process with the students also left Vegliante with a deep reflection on the day: “This is true service learning. Today, for the first time in my three years teaching, I actually felt like I inspired students and made a difference in their lives. For that I will always be grateful for Jordan (Croson), Shane, Haley (Crosser), and Justin (Taylor)."
Every high school in the county with a senior class attempted to participate in the High School Voter Registration Program. School administration and faculty that were able to do so (Woodgrove was not due to inclement weather) were enthusiastic about it. Loudoun Valley’s Social Science Dept. Chair Rodney M. Jones, Jr. spoke about the program, saying, “Our government teachers, who are outstanding, made sure to explain the importance of registering to vote and the Office of Elections did a great presentation. Also, our students are interested in the issues and especially this year's presidential election.”
Jones also felt it was essential in the registration process to reflect on the the privilege of voting: “Voting is a very important aspect of our society. Many have fought and died to preserve this aspect over the years. My hope is that the students realize the power they have in voting. A lot of students look forward to casting their first vote and hope that it makes a difference. I know it makes a difference because they have stood up and made their voice heard. That is powerful.”
LVHS Principal Ross was in agreement, stating, “Traditionally, we have worked with the Board of Elections to ensure that our seniors are made aware of the opportunity to register to vote each year. Our students have a long history of involvement with the election process and we are grateful that our students, teachers, parents, and entire community deeply value being engaged and involved in the processes that serve as the foundation of democracy in our country.”
The weather was not cooperating when Woodgrove High School tried to schedule and reschedule the Office of Elections presentation, according to Principal Shipp. Shipp, however, expressed the importance of the process: “Our government teachers shared with the students the online registration site and the deadlines for registering. In addition, teachers discussed the importance of voting in local elections, since many times these elections can have a significant impact on their lives. The classes have been following the races through current events each class period“ and some of our students did attend a political rally held locally yesterday (Sunday, February 28). We've made school-wide announcements and teachers have continued to remind eligible students to participate in the election.”
Office of Elections Outreach Coordinator Beckley hopes that the process can be streamlined when it comes to scheduling the presentations so that they are on the agenda each school year just like graduation.
Beckley addressed the home school population by stating that the students were kept apprised of voter deadlines and the registration process. She says, “I had several home school students attend the Page Program workshop and volunteer in the November 2015 Election. We have home school students stop in with their parents all the time and register to vote. The parents do a good job staying affiliated with Loudoun County programs and keeping their kids registered to vote. They visit our website to stay engaged about programs and registration.”
The high number of eligible high school students who registered were testimony to the success of the Voter Registration Program. Beckley concluded by saying, “It was my honor to be in the presence of such talented teachers, educators, smart students and dedicated patriot partners to make this happen. Our staff at the Office of Elections works hard all year long to make each election run smooth and problem-free for our citizens. The best gift in return is when they show up and vote.”
1956 Loudoun County HS graduate, Betty Sue Longerbeam, has been Chief Election Officer in Philomont for 40 years. Contributed photo.