NEWARK, NJ — Though the 13- and 14-year-old students of Philip’s Academy Charter School may be a ways away from casting ballots, teachers and administrators weren’t about to let them kick up their feet this election season.
Students returned to school for the first time since last march on Thursday to write and send postcards to 500 unregistered voters in North Carolina through Reclaim Our Vote, a nonpartisan organization whose mission is to ensure every United States citizen secures their constitutional right to vote.
Philip’s Academy, which started the year remotely along with Newark Public School District, will reopen to a limited number of students Oct. 5, according to Principal Yazmeen Sampson. She said that given the major shake-up to the way students are learning during the pandemic, she and her staff wanted to empower 8th graders to be leaders from a distance.
The participation in Reclaim Our Vote, which was followed by a social-justice-oriented group painting activity, is part of the school’s new social justice programming this year.
“So much happened in addition to the pandemic. Even when the George Floyd incident happened, we were only a week and a half out of school closing,” Sampson said. “We thought long and hard over the summer about a way to empower them to be leaders and build a social justice program.”
Amy Jo Curran, director of student advocacy, said the postcards are guaranteed to increase voter registration by 25% to 35%. Each student wrote at least 10 cards to individual inactive voters with information on how to make sure their vote counts.
“We really wanted the kids to be able to connect to that and feel like they have a voice, to feel like it matters and like they’re doing something. As I was writing them, it felt so personal to me,” Curran said.
Student Tiffany Ezeanuna said it felt amazing to reach people and participate in such an important election through service, especially after six months of being away from her peers and teachers.
Witnessing civil unrest spurred by police brutality against African Americans has been “devastating” for Ezeanuna, and she added that the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg saddened her. But she said activities like the postcards make her feel like she has an active role in what may be the most critical election in modern American history, even though she herself cannot vote.
“Knowing that I’m part of an impact that is even out of this state is very special and dear to my heart. Having the opportunity to gather here with my friends and do something for others is amazing,” she said.