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Metea Valley students watch debate; get involved in political discourse

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Updated: November 18, 2012 6:26AM

On Tuesday night, Metea Valley High School students weren’t at home watching “The Voice.” They weren’t out with friends, or slouched on the couch — they were huddled together in a conference room at their school, watching their futures play out before them.

More than 100 students spent their evening watching the second presidential debate, and the level of interest was no surprise to teachers. Metea is one of the first suburban schools to be involved in the Mikva Challenge electoral participation program, which encourages political involvement.

Students will also participate in this year’s election by campaigning for Republican Judy Biggert and Democrat Bill Foster, who are running in the 11th Congressional District, which includes the Metea Valley campus. Other students will serve as election judges and will register kids to vote at school.

“(Political involvement) is the culture of the building,” said government teacher Heather Weisenburger. “We’ve built it into the core of our program. It’s an expectation that you be active.”

And, active the students were on Tuesday as they listened intently to the candidates debate on the big screen. They were full of snickers and cheers as they rooted for their respective political parties, tweeted from their smart phones with other Mikva schools across Illinois.

“I think it’s really important to get involved. This is OUR future,” said Senior Carly Baxa. “We need to make decisions for what we want in our lives.”

Baxa and her classmates pointed to jobs and the economy as hot topics pertaining to their generation. They worry about graduating from college and being unable to find jobs. They fret about student loans and foreign policy.

“People are graduating from top universities and aren’t getting jobs in their field,” Baxa said. These are issues that will impact her deeply.

Kim Rothenberger, 17, agreed. Though she’ll miss the voting deadline by just a few weeks, she said her school’s curriculum and the teachers teaching it have helped her become more informed than most people who will hit the polls.

“Four years ago, I would have never thought that any of this pertained to me,” she said. “Today, I’d feel comfortable voting if I could.”

It’s her teachers, she said, that have helped her come this far.

“Before, I didn’t think the information was tangible. Nobody took the time to fill me in on what was going on. But I feel more educated now, and it’s more enjoyable,” she said of politics.

Shreyas Vissapragada, a 16-year-old Senior, has always dabbled in the political realm, but it was through Metea Valley that he really got involved.

“The school has really brought it down to our level. We’re not asked to choose sides. We’re not asked to vote for Obama or vote for Romney — we’re just asked to vote,” he said. “In class, the teachers are really enthusiastic. They say, ‘This is your future. Get involved.’

“These policies are going to impact us directly, and we need to make our own decisions for ourselves.”

Statements like these are nothing but music to Weisenburger’s ears. Watching her students get involved means she and her co-workers are doing their job, and doing it well.

“Our philosophy here is to make kids good citizens,” she said. The school is constantly having students rock the vote—and for things far beyond homecoming court. “The more often we can get them to vote on things and see that their vote matters, the more likely they’ll do it as adults.”

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