Local kids are taking the lead as governor

New Hampshire’s Kid Governor for 2020, Suzy Brand, center, with Executive Council, from left, Patrick Lavoie, J.T. Pourby, Kasey Fitzgerald and Ameya Kharade. Calvin Sarnie, also an Executive Councilor, is not pictured. Photo By Kendal J. Bush

To be governor, you need to show leadership, passion, and a desire to represent your constituents. You also need to run an effective election campaign and persuade people to vote for you.

And if you are a fifth-grader running to be New Hampshire’s Kid Governor®, you should champion a platform that your peers can really rally behind.

Last year, New Hampshire’s fifth-graders elected Lola Giannelli, 11, of Nashua, to be New Hampshire’s first-ever Kid Governor. Giannelli’s platform, ending animal cruelty, resonated with her peers across the state, who voted for her based on a two-minute video she submitted as part of the program’s election process.

On Jan. 17, Giannelli stepped down when Suzy Brand, 10, of Concord and a fifth-grader at Sant Bani School in Sanbornton, was inaugurated as New Hampshire’s Kid Governor for 2020 at the State House.

Her platform, outdoor education, was inspired by Brand’s own school experience. Sant Bani School is a private school with about one-and-a-half hours of outdoor time built into the day, which includes recess, lunch time, after-school enrichment, and walking to different buildings for class. Having that extra time allows students to decompress and better focus on their schoolwork, Brand said.

“I based it off of something I learned when I switched schools,” Brand said. “This school has almost two hours of recess every day. That’s part of the reason I wanted to come here. I think if everyone had at least 30 more minutes of outdoor time in a day, what a big difference that would make.”

In the opening of her campaign video, Brand shows fidgeting, sleepy classmates slumped over their laptops. Standing outdoors, she outlines her platform and three-point plan. She will use her year-long term to raise money and gather donations for outdoor gear, share outdoor challenges on her blog, and work on a bill to get students more time outdoors during the school day. Her friends rally around her at the end of the video, holding signs and yelling, “Vote for Suzy!”

A teaching fellow helped film and edit the video, while members of the class participated. Brand’s teacher, Cate Huynen, said students were respectful and supportive of the six students who ran, including Suzy. After Brand won the school primary, students were eager to work on her campaign video.

Brand said she never expected to win. She’s excited about collecting gear so that kids across the state can get outdoors during the school day.

“I am thinking I’d like to start a chain, in every school, of somewhere to go if kids don’t have winter clothing. A lot of the time, you might go to the nurse for that sort of thing and come up with two mismatched things from the Lost and Found,” Brand said. “(Having snow gear) makes playing in the snow more of a choice. Some people can’t afford to buy snow pants or stuff like that.”

Huynen, who is a second-year teacher at Sant Bani, said she would participate in the Kid Governor program again. In addition to providing lessons about the branches of government, it also taught kids that they don’t have to wait until they are adults to make an impact on the world around them.

“Kids get involved in government now and feel that it’s not a far distant thing in the future,” she said.

The first-ever Kid Governor, Lola Giannelli of Nashua, was elected in November 2018. Her platform focused on animal cruelty prevention. Courtesy photo

Outgoing Kid Governor Giannelli plans to remain politically active, thanks to her newfound political experience.

Last year, she followed through on her campaign to protect animals, by making pet toys for animal shelters, collecting pet supplies through donation drives, and working on House Bill 1388, a bill sponsored by Rep. Katherine Rodgers (D-Merrimack- District 28) and four other representatives to stop the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet stores. She visited the New Hampshire Humane Society, wrote a blog on how to help animals, took part in a library tour where she discussed her platform, and met Gov. Chris Sununu twice.

“I am going to keep pushing for the bill,” Giannelli said. “When this ended, I didn’t want to just drop everything — I want to keep fighting.”

Bringing the Kid Governor program to NH

New Hampshire’s Kid Governor program, sponsored by the New Hampshire Institute for Civics Education and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, has completed its second year in participating schools. Last fall, 21 schools opted to teach the civics education program, and students from 14 schools officially ran for office and got a taste of what it might be like to run for New Hampshire’s top job.

In its inaugural year in 2018, only three schools submitted candidates said Luane Genest, New Hampshire’s Kid Governor coordinator. A former teacher in the Nashua School District, now retired, Genest said the national Kid Governor program includes a curriculum that teaches students about the three branches of government, the election process, and the importance of civic participation through holding real-life elections that take place in November. It also fills a gap in many schools, where the fifth-grade social studies curriculum might not include a specific unit on New Hampshire government and the election process.

“I always felt like social studies was the one area where we didn’t get extra resources, because they were going to reading, math and science,” Genest said, adding that New Hampshire’s Kid Governor program helps teachers fill gaps in the civics education part of the curriculum.

The goal of Kid Governor is to increase and improve civics education in New Hampshire schools, said Martha Madsen, a certified principal and executive director of the New Hampshire Institute for Civics Education. The program came to New Hampshire after Madsen met Brian Cofrancesco, manager of educational programs & Kid Governor at the Connecticut Democracy Center.

Kid Governor was created by the Connecticut Democracy Center in 2015 and expanded to Oregon in 2017, before New Hampshire became its third state affiliate. Free toolkits, resources and lesson plans are tailored to each state’s government and Constitution and are available to all fifth-grade classrooms.

“At first, I was dubious, because I didn’t want it to be about one kid. I took a careful look at the curriculum and what it really has in it. It teaches kids about the branches of government in New Hampshire and the Constitution,” she said. “Teachers talk to their students about leadership, New Hampshire voting rights, and the checks and balances of government.”

Students vote for New Hampshire’s Kid Governor. Courtesy photo

Each school can nominate one candidate who must produce a short video focused on a community issue and describe a three-point action plan to tackle that issue. The program’s advisory board then narrows the field to seven candidates who are then voted on by participating fifth-graders. Even if a student doesn’t want to run for governor, students work together to examine issues in the community that they care about and create possible ways to address that problem.

“It’s been well-received by the kids. It’s not only positive for the kid who wins, but equally powerful for the kids who engage with this process,” Madsen said.

Introducing the New Hampshire’s Kid Governor Executive Council

New Hampshire’s Kid Governor also garners support from an Executive Council made up of state-level finalists who ran for office.

New Hampshire’s Kid Governor 2020 finalist Kasey Fitzgerald, 11, who attends the Pollard School in Plaistow, chose bullying as her platform because she’s seen a lot of people get bullied and “it’s just not right.”

Her three-point plan includes creating a “non-bullying” bulletin that allows classmates to write kind notes about others. She also suggests the fifth-graders sign a pledge not to participate in bullying and commit to holding a “Kindness Day” at their school each year. Although she didn’t get elected Kid Governor, Fitzgerald still expects to fulfill her campaign promises.

“Starting in January when we get back from vacation, I am going to do my non-bullying bulletin board. Students having a hard day can feel a little better,” she said.

Fitzgerald’s social studies teacher, Jo Ann Robichaud, who has taught for 31 years, said she will definitely involve her students in the program next year. Every student had a part in researching community issues important to them and realized that they had the power to make change, even though they were fifth-graders.

“What I liked most and excited the kids was this was not a mock election. It was a real election. The kids were more involved because they really were going to carry out their platforms,” she said.

Other New Hampshire’s Kid Governor finalists included Ameya Kharade, Bicentennial Elementary School, Nashua (college and career awareness); Calvin Sarnie, Charlotte Avenue Elementary School, Nashua (pollinator loss); J.T. Pourby, Andover Elementary/Middle School, Andover (save the sea turtles); Patrick Lavoie, James Faulkner Elementary School, Stoddard (underage tobacco use); and Taina (Nina) Anaya, Sunset Heights Elementary School, Nashua (Catie’s closet, a clothing and toiletries resource for students in need).

New Hampshire teachers interested in participating in New Hampshire’s Kid Governor program next school year may sign up to receive a newsletter at www.nhcivics.org/contact-us.html.  The newsletter will alert them about upcoming trainings, including New Hampshire’s Kid Governor Boot Camp, which will take place on Aug. 17, 2020. They can also learn more about the program by going to www.nh.kidgovernor.org/ or by contacting Luane Genest at luanegenest@NH.KidGovernor.org.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks has worked as a journalist and in marketing roles throughout the Granite State. She now regularly writes for New-England based higher education, business, and technology organizations. Mom to preschooler Everett, she has enjoyed calling the Seacoast her home for more than 25 years.

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