By Kim Walter
STEPHENS CITY -- Anyone looking to get kids excited about voting should take a lesson from Thursday evening's Kids Voting-Northern Shenandoah Valley event at Sherando High School.
The event brought together students from Winchester, and Clarke, Frederick and Warren counties to learn more about local candidates running for office, and get them enthused about voting.
Steve Edwards, chairman of the local Kids Voting chapter, said the event gets bigger and better every year.
"We'll probably see about 700 or so kids from different school divisions," he said. "It's always a treat seeing them interact with candidates and take the time to ask a few questions."
Those candidate who were at the event are running for a variety of offices, including school board, board of supervisors, sheriff and treasurer. Several potential delegates attended as well.
"They didn't have to take the time out of their busy schedule to do this, but they do because they know getting the youth excited about voting is important," Edwards said. "Plus, when kids realize that these candidates are retired teachers, or firefighters or attorneys ... it sends the message that they can serve their community one day, too."
For the first hour of the event, students went around from booth to booth asking questions and getting the initials of different candidates. Students who were able to interact with 12 candidates could enter their name in a drawing for a prize.
John Lamanna, a member of the Frederick County School Board, asked students if they knew what a school board is responsible for as he signed their slips of paper. Some did and some didn't, but Lamanna said he was just happy to be a part of the event.
"Their votes might not technically count yet, but the education piece of this is so important," he said. "I mean, look around, the kids are having fun and they're really into it. It's great."
The second half of the evening was when the real energy and excitement came out, though.
Hundreds of students gathered in the school's auditorium for several spirit and trivia competitions. Some students brought signs and pom-poms, and cheered as loudly as they could.
Two teachers "hosted" that portion of the evening, and walked around asking students different questions on topics including local and state government, important documents and voting requirements.
Rebecca Utterback, a 13-year-old student at Robert E. Aylor Middle School, said she's attended the Kids Voting event for the past three years. She said she enjoys the rally portion because of the energy.
"It's just really fun each year," she said.
However, Rebecca said it's important to speak with each candidate.
"I ask them what their big plans are if they win, and how it will impact the community," she said. "I actually really like hearing what they have to say and then giving information that I learned to my parents."
Even though she's several years away from voting, Rebecca said change has to start now.
"The 18 to 25 age group is the one voting the least," she said. "So if we start learning and understanding now, we can make a difference once we are old enough to vote."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org