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Debates aren't just for presidential candidates

By Greg Gelpi

Point, counterpoint, the debate went back and forth in a flurry of assertions and retorts.

The scene wasn't a big stage and the players weren't presidential candidates, but the stakes were nearly as high.

Students at Hawthorne Elementary School debated the need for automatic flushing toilets, buying new physical education equipment and other issues relevant to the students.

"The first word of homework is home and we should have time to do homework at home," Ricky Fergerson, 10, said, arguing for a shorter school day. "The school day at Hawthorne should be shortened because we get a full day in six hours."

After watching President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential contender John Kerry debate on television, the students discussed the "art of persuasion" and what makes an effective debater.

Dana Hawkins' fifth grade students are using the race for president to learn an array of lessons from how government works and civics to math and crunching voting statistics.

The lesson will culminate the same way as the presidential campaigns. All of the students registered to vote and will cast ballots at the end of the month in the mock election.

"I learned how much pressure the candidates have on them when they do the debates," Fergerson said.

Although he understands the pressure, he is still unclear about Democrats and Republicans.

Hawkins said her class is avoiding more controversial subjects and are learning the facts about the two parties, such as which party is represented by the elephant and which is represented by the donkey.

Lee Ana Harris,11, said she enjoyed arguing about longer computer time in class, adding it's been fun learning about Kerry and Bush.

"I want them all thinking outside their boxes," Hawkins said, explaining that she wants them to argue the opposing position on issues to further their learning.

The campaigns continue as students study about the two candidates and teach younger students facts about them, including favorite color, family size and other facts.

They will also man booths and tabulate vote counts in the school's election.