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Teaching. Voting.

After parading to the Lansing Public Library, 23 seniors from TF South posed with local and state elected officials and other encouragers before casting their first vote. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

District 215 organizes first-ever Parade to the Polls

by Melanie Jongsma

Note: The print version of this story contains a typo in the subhead. It was District 215 (not 158) that organized the Parade to the Polls. We regret the error.

LANSING, Ill. (November 2, 2018) – It was a civics lesson come to life. When 23 TF South students decided to participate in the “Parade to the Polls,” they learned the logistics of voting—and they met some of the results. Illinois State Senator Elgie Sims, Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam, Village Trustees Maureen Grady-Perovich and Jerry Zeldenrust, School Board President Richard Dust, School Board members LeeAnn Revis and Patricia Stepp, and Park Board Commissioner Micaela Smith marched along with the students and praised them for getting involved.

Revis is the School Board member who originally proposed the parade. Aware that the 18–29-year-old demographic has the lowest voter turnout rate, she wanted to do more than simply bemoan their lack of engagement. With support from District 215 Superintendent Teresa Lance, Revis began planning a Parade to the Polls for both TF North and TF South. It was a practical application of the teaching that happens in their Civics, Government, and US History classes.

Outside the library, Senator Elgie Sims tries to get a selfie with the kids. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Doing the math

Revis wasn’t sure what to expect, but she set a mental goal of symbolically doubling the national turnout rate in 2014, which was an estimated 16–17%. If 50 kids from both schools would vote, that would be almost 30% of eligible voters in those schools.

On Wednesday, October 31, 35 students from TF North paraded to the polls at the Calumet City Library. On Friday, November 2, 23 students from TF South paraded to the polls at the Lansing Public Library. Revis’ goal had been exceeded by eight voters. In other words, the two high schools had a 34% voter turnout rate. “My heart is full,” said Revis.

Teaching the process

For people who have been voting for many years, the process is not complicated, and it’s easy to forget what was involved in becoming a registered voter. Adults who drive cars, own houses, and receive mail have plenty of forms of identification that show name and address. For an 18-year-old, the choices are less abundant. And factors like having parents with different addresses, not knowing your Social Security number, and not having a driver’s license can complicate the process. TF South Principal Jake Gourley proactively printed out a recent report card for each of the 23 paraders, so they would have at least one official document showing name and address.

Principal Gourley printed report cards for the 23 participants, and Judy Wengren made sure students picked them up. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

On Friday, there were kids who did not realize the importance of that document until they began the voter registration process. Some had thought their student ID would be enough—but student IDs don’t show proof of residence. Senator Sims was available to serve as shepherd and advocate, and Election Judge Carolyn Smith gave the new registrants as much time as possible while still accommodating the other voters in line. Without that encouragement, many of these students would not have registered or voted. “Voting can be intimidating,” Revis admits, and she was glad adults were around to help navigate potential obstacles.

Haley Avila was nervous about all the names she had to sift through, and she considered them carefully. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Knowing the choices

Haley Avila expressed some nervousness about her first vote. “I’ve never done this before,” she said from the booth, slightly overwhelmed by all the names and choices. Another student pronounced the experience “stressful,” though he was proud to have completed it. For first-timers it was eye-opening to see that politics is broader than the offices that can afford to send mailers and air commercials.

District 215 Board member LeeAnn Revis (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Instilling the value

As students came out of the voting booths, their fellow paraders were there to applaud them—not in a “You’re all winners!” sense, but in recognition of an important milestone.

“Voting is something we should celebrate and not take for granted,” Revis says. Not only did people die to initially create this democracy, but, she points out, people died for women and people of color to be able to participate in it.

TF South Principal Jake Gourley
Principal Gourley agrees: “Voting is a part of our civic duty. It is our hope that by celebrating first-time voters, TF South will be part of starting lifelong voting traditions.”

District 215 Superintendent Teresa Lance
“I was excited that Board member Revis wanted to engage our students in activities that ultimately give back to our community at home and at large,” said Superintendent Lance. “The Parade to the Polls was just another way for our government officials to recognize the power of our young people’s voices, especially in Thornton Fractional 215.”

Revis recalls meeting older voters who have told her, “I’ve never missed an election.” Their parents went to the polls with them and taught them how to vote, and it became a lifelong value. “Wouldn’t it be great if one day these 18-year-olds could say the same thing?” she asked.

TF South’s Parade to the Polls participants included: Haley Avila, Emiliano Galindo, Emaz Graham, Tyshaun Harvest, Tyrik Hickland, Tytiyana Jones, Ronald Lee, Ronson Macon, Jorge Magdaleno, James-Tresor Massy, Ranisha Morris, Justin Morris, Jackelin Munoz, Cornelious Muwanga, Fernando Navejar, Alexander Rangel, Claire Redikop, Kimberly Reyes, Brittney Salas-Gonzalez, Iliana Saldana, David Shaw, Zaire Vanderhorst, Tsujiorka Walker, and Brandon White.

TF South High School is located at 18500 Burnham Avenue in Lansing, Illinois.


Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.