Laura Sandefer

December 9, 2020

November 3rd marked the date of the 2020 general election. For many of us, it signifies one of the most important days in the calendar year and also marks the day where Americans take part in our democratic process. Most schools rely on their social studies class to discuss the candidates, their views and move on with the day.

At Acton, we chose to do things differently by asking the heroes if they would like to create their own president, and the answer was a resounding yes! They were presented with some guidelines such as the president must be elected through a voting process; the president would have increased responsibilities in the studio; and that anyone can run for the office. After the foundation had been laid the heroes ran with it.

The heroes dove headfirst into the process of how the president was elected – two separate primaries, then the two winners would face each other in a general election. When he or she was elected to the presidency, that learner would become the leader of Acton Seacoast, would help to resolve conflicts within the studio, hold learners to their commitments, lead core skills, and serve for two sessions before their term in office was complete.

The heroes were bursting with excitement and chomping at the bit to become our first president. In the first primary, they prepared their speeches based on what they believed a president should be like. They tried to capture their audience’s attention and votes in order to go to the general election – “our finals”.

Everyone bought into the process that they helped create. All of our heroes believed in the election, not questioning the results or the legitimacy of their leader. We had our brief inauguration ceremony and the learners had their leader.

But the process didn’t stop there. Our president faced challenges in his first term. The learners looked to him rather than the guides for guidance, help, and advice. Every point of overlap between the learners and the guides was handed to the president at the request of the learners. It didn’t take long for the president to feel overwhelmed by his responsibilities.

Empowered and enlightened, the president sought out help from one of his peers. He let his feelings be known, and together they created a petition for the creation of a new office: the Vice-President of Acton. The two learners brought the petition to their peers at Acton Seacoast who supported the measure wholeheartedly. By the time it was brought up in our weekly town hall meeting, it was approved unanimously.

In the final week of school in December, just before our next election, the heroes finalized the vice-president’s role, their powers, and how the position was to be elected. In addition to the vice-presidency, the heroes decided on term limits for the president – only serving twice during the span of the year – and that the president must win a primary to return to the general election. Again, the excitement and feeling in the studio were electric.

We dove back into our primary, waiting to see which two heroes would emerge as our presidential candidates. They wrote their pitches on an outline provided by the guides and prepared themselves for the contest.

During the primary, big emotions emerged.

The guides noticed that the stress and pressure of the moment got to one learner in particular. The hero had been distracted by a friend who was meant to advise the hero in their speechmaking. When it came time to present the speech, the hero broke into tears as they were unprepared and embarrassed.

In the other primary group, Acton Seacoast’s first president lost his re-election bid to one of his friends. The president was stunned. He was sure he’d win, though he didn’t account for his opponent’s friends voting for the opponent. Hurt by his loss, the president waited silently and sullenly for the general election to come around.

Our election moved forward, and the time to choose a vice-president had come. Both of the presidential candidates waited on separate sides of the room to interview the best choice for their VP. Every single hero in the studio volunteered to be interviewed. Everyone in the studio, from our usually silent ones to the president who lost re-election, wanted the opportunity to be our first vice-president.

One of the vice-presidential candidates was confident in his victory; they believed it was inevitable due to several presidential candidates repeatedly asking this hero to be their vice-presidential candidate. The hero’s confidence soared to new heights. However, the election didn’t swing in the candidate’s favor and their ticket lost.

The hero’s confidence took a hit and they were clearly embarrassed by their defeat. The hero they shared the ticket with, the presidential candidate they ran with, was equally upset. The vice-president candidate turned their back to our president-elect and the vice-president-elect when it came time to shake hands.

There were lots of big feelings coming up for many heroes, and we knew the secret to help them process them; the next morning’s Socratic discussion.

After a night to rest and allow the emotions to cool, the heroes were given a hypothetical scenario – they and their friend were both nominated for an all-star sports team, but only one of them would earn the spot on the team, which ended up being the friend. They were asked if they felt proud of their friend, upset because they wanted the position instead, or were embarrassed because they “lost” the position. A follow-up question, “should you tell your friend how you feel, or is it better to keep your feelings to yourself so you don’t hurt them”.

The Socratic gave the heroes a chance to process, talk through, and reflect upon the previous day’s experience. We closed the discussion with the question: does losing make you want to give up or does losing make you want to try harder to achieve success?

Every single hero said, “try harder to achieve success”. Now that’s a win!

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