KCK teacher giving students hands-on lessons about civics with some teens set to work at polls

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Wyandotte High School teacher is making sure her teenage students are at the polls on Election Day, even the ones who aren’t old enough to vote. 

Sheyvette Denkins is in year two of leading her students through a project called “Your Voice. Vote.” She’s a business educator who teaches an advanced class about civic engagement.

Last year, students were trained on voter registration, American history and voter rights.

“They went around the school, and they recruited other students to help them spread the word about civic engagement,” Denkins said. “They then went throughout the school to get their peers registered. We hosted a board forum, and we were able to get the majority of our seniors registered to vote.”

She said the education goes beyond the classroom, even the virtual classroom this year.

“We have 12 students who are actually going to be election workers, so we have another section of our project where they’re actually at the Wyandotte County Election Office doing training this week and next week to be workers,” Denkins said. “All those things that they’re doing outside of the classroom is really what makes education special.”

Sixteen-year-old Pyo Sein isn’t old enough to vote, but when he turns 18, he’ll know more than most about the process.

“I think they covered a lot, but I’m not sure I’m 100% ready for everything. I think I know most of the basics,” he said of the training. “I needed some experience in the work field to start working as well.”

“A lot of the kids have gone to training, and it’s like a government classroom within itself, and they’re like, ‘Ms. Denkins, I learned this, did you know this?’ ‘I did, but I’m glad you learned that!’” she said with a laugh.

She said she’s teaching them how and why to vote, not who to vote for.

“We do have interesting conversations, and I do tell kids they always have to be neutral,” Denkins said. “There are kids that have strong opinions about a variety of things. They’re aware. They watch the news. They’re in a community. They understand what’s going on.

“So I tell them, ‘With a neutral opinion, you can target any audience.’ We don’t want to turn people off, or we don’t want to encourage things, so we have to be neutral. That’s kind of the classroom word that we use: neutral.”

The lessons seem to be getting through to her students.

“Anyone can care about the election,” Sein said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are. You can care about politics or your neighborhood or how the country is just by voting.”

Want to improve your civics education? Here are a few resources to dive into:

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