Students Take the Lead in Election Discussions at Nightingale

November 5, 2020

Central to Nightingale’s mission is the belief that our students will be joyful learners who have the intellectual depth and the courage to be critical thinkers, compassionate citizens, and agents of their own lives. Cultivating these qualities requires an active engagement with the world around us, from the streets of New York City to countries thousands of miles away. This fall, the 2020 election provided a unique opportunity for our students to live our mission all while growing as independent thinkers, practicing listening, and sharing their voices.

In preparation for Election Day, students in all divisions engaged in age-appropriate discussions and lessons in classes, assemblies, and advisory. In many of these instances, these were led by Upper School students currently enrolled in the elective course, Presidential Politics in Historical Context. Offered in the fall, the class covers the history and structure of presidential campaigns and political parties, voting rights and barriers, political ideology and rhetoric, and the role of campaign finance, polling, and the media. The class is primarily discussion based and heavily focused on current events. Visitors to the class are frequent and have included pollsters and former ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson, among others.

Our Presidential Politics students presented in both Middle and Upper School assemblies prior to the election, sharing the backgrounds of each candidate and the major issues that are important to each campaign. They also examined the impact of polling, how the Electoral College works, and the role that battleground states can play when an election is close. In each assembly, there was ample time left for questions and our Upper School students demonstrated both their passion for politics and their depth of knowledge, thinking on their feet and answering questions in a thorough and unbiased manner.

Speaking about her experience presenting in assembly, Sophia ‘21 shared, “I think we are in a unique position where we have studied the electoral process in class and are also part of a really politically active generation. Our class has learned about the data and processes behind parts of our electoral system, which I think has helped us look at this election from a broader lens. Most of us were in eighth grade during the 2016 election, and I know I at least was not very informed about that election. I also definitely did not understand the importance of polling and swing states. A lot of Middle Schoolers asked about the Electoral College, which we were excited to answer because we actually had a debate about it recently.”

Class III also had the opportunity to submit questions to our Presidential Politics students and have them answered via FlipGrid. Some of their questions included, “Why is there a presidential election every four years,” “How do you decide who to vote for,” and “Why do we have presidential debates?” Lower School students also read books such as If I Ran for President and Lillian’s Right to Vote, while Class IV learned about the Electoral College and the voting process using resources from Teaching Tolerance.

In the coming weeks, Presidential Politics will find students working in pairs on a design thinking project on electoral reform. They will select an issue they find problematic within the US electoral system and design a solution, thereby making the process more accessible and equitable.

Upper School student engagement and initiative also continued on election night itself and the days that followed. Members of two Upper School student publications, The Spectator and Time Regained, emailed out live election updates to those who requested to receive them starting around 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday evening. They carefully watched a variety of mainstream television news sources along with the New York Times map, which was updated frequently.

Before sending out an update to the Nightingale community, they compared reports from multiple sources against each other, always making sure to include a link to a source when emailing an update. Remaining unbiased in their emails was of utmost importance to all of our reporters and of course, double checking that they were sharing accurate information. Isabelle ‘21 reflected on the experience, “I love news media, and I felt like I was a part of it! This [was] clearly a historical election and I am so glad to be a part of it at Nightingale. I certainly hope that we informed people. Additionally, I got to send [Wednesday morning’s] update which was not breaking news. I took the time to remind people that there are still so many mail in ballots that will not be counted for a while. Part of giving news updates, to me, is calming people’s minds to a certain extent.”

One thing that stood out to the editors was how the media analyzes poll projections and how states report their results. Sari ‘21 shared, “I would emphasize that the polls are not predictions of the election night outcomes but rather snapshots of how the public is feeling at a given moment...polls can sometimes be predictive as well, but that is not their primary purpose. So many different factors go into polling that it is easy for a poll to misrepresent the population, as we saw in numerous states [on election night].”

Lily ‘21 described the entire experience of reporting election returns as exhilarating, and she is grateful to have had the opportunity to do so within the Nightingale community. At the end of the day, her biggest takeaway was this: “Breaking news waits for no one!”

The Middle School was also actively engaged in learning about the election in advisory. Two lessons were dedicated to helping students explore how their personal experiences and identities led to their beliefs and in some cases, their political opinions. The lessons were broken down into multiple parts, each one building on the next to answer questions about the Electoral College, swing states, and other logistical pieces of electing a president while simultaneously providing space for students to voice opinions, share their feelings, and engage in personal reflection.

In the moments where students were able to share their feelings and opinions, peers in their group were able to practice listening to viewpoints that may have been stronger than or in contrast to their own, a critical skill for every Nightingale community member of any age to practice. These lessons had quite an impact on our Middle School students. In a discussion about what they value in themselves and others, and how that can impact decisions about who they decide to vote for (in any election), Cece '27 remarked, "Maybe if we understand why we value certain qualities in ourselves and others, people will better understand why we've chosen the candidate we've chosen instead of being angry with us because we don't agree with them."

Though this moment in history is unlike any other, Nightingale remains proud of the students, faculty, and staff who continue to stay present with open minds and hearts, engage with one another, and seize learning opportunities wherever they appear.

*Pictured: Presidential Politics students conducting exit polls on November 3, 2020.