Practical Politics on the Campaign Trail

Tenley Rooney
SPS Students Take on N.H. Primary

All eyes will be on New Hampshire next Tuesday when votes are cast in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, and St. Paul’s School students have a front row seat.
Students in Practical Politics, an elective in the Humanities Division, have been volunteering for presidential candidates in their Concord and Manchester, N.H., offices one day a week as part of their coursework.
“It's not like your regular, everyday class,” said Sixth Former Arthur Zaharko, who volunteers for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “You actually get to use what you learn in class in the real world by going out and helping in a political campaign.”
As part of the course this term, which focuses on voter issues and campaigns, students were required to volunteer for one of four candidates: Democrats Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
“A course on the election, in an election season – it was a perfect fit,” said Humanities faculty member Grant Edwards. “In New Hampshire, retail politics is so huge. We’ve seized the opportunity for an academic experience that is genuinely New Hampshire.”
Students’ campaign work has run the gamut from making yard signs and canvassing, to collecting data and calling constituents. Back in the classroom, the groups discuss voter turnout, gerrymandering, and the meaning of democracy.
“It’s been an interesting awakening for our students,” said Edwards who created the elective in 2008.
Phone banking has proven to be one of the most illuminating assignments, putting students in direct contact with New Hampshire voters.
“You make around 70 calls, maybe more,” said Sixth Former Sophie Pesek, who is working for Sanders. “Generally, people are pretty nice. If they don’t want to talk they’ll say, ‘I don’t discuss politics.’ It’s nice to have a conversation about the issues. I like that personal aspect.”
Fifth Former Brian Kim has been working for Bush this term. The course has been an eye-opener for the California teen. “I was curious and didn’t know anything about politics before,” said Kim. “I didn’t know New Hampshire was such a big flip state.”
When not working for their candidates, the students also have the opportunity to attend rallies. Paulies have a growing stack of selfies with candidates and former presidents, including Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bill Clinton.
Connecticut-raised Izzy Reid ’16 sees the class as a pro-active opportunity for students not accustomed to New Hampshire’s presidential primary frenzy.
“I think it’s a great way to get to know people,” said Reid, who is working for Rubio. “Being up close and personal with these candidates is unbelievable. There is no better time or place to be taking this class.”