November 9, 2018
A group of Cypress Woods High School seniors pose outside Juergen’s Hall on Oct. 31 after each student voted for the first time. Teachers at Cypress Woods and Cypress Falls high schools organized field trips for students who turned 18 years old and were now eligible to vote. Nearly 80 seniors from the schools went on the trips to vote.
By Hunter King, Cypress Falls HS, and Caroline Stiff, Cypress Woods HS
Nov. 9, 2018—In seeing the need for their students to understand the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, government and economics teachers from both Cypress Falls and Cypress Woods high schools organized trips for eligible students to participate in the election process for their first time.
At Cypress Woods, teachers Leah Stephanow and Michael White helped organize the trip for 42 seniors, who traveled to Juergen’s Hall during their government or economics classes Oct. 31 to cast their ballot during early voting.
At Cypress Falls, teachers James Parrish and Kathleen Vargas spearheaded the effort for 36 seniors, who also went to Juergen’s Hall during the same classes Nov. 1 to participate in their first election.
A group of Cypress Falls High School seniors prepare to board a school bus Nov. 1 to vote for the first time. Teachers at Cypress Woods and Cypress Falls high schools organized field trips for students who turned 18 years old and were now eligible to vote.
“Voting is a Constitutional right that every American carries with them and should use,” Parrish said. “It is a way to voice your opinion in how our country should operate and who represents them.”
The idea of leading first-time voters to the ballot box isn’t new in CFISD.
Before the 2016 general election, voting field trips were carried out for students from Cypress Woods and Langham Creek high school.
“We took about 50 kids throughout the day, and they were very excited to go their first time,” Stephanow recalled of the 2016 trip. “They talked about how fun it was, they got really excited when we drove up to the early voting location, and there were lots of people in line. They got all excited to see people coming out to vote.”
Seeing the opportunity for students, Parrish and Vargas took the idea to Cypress Falls Principal Becky Denton, who was on board once they had the green light from CFISD administration. That came back quickly and the teaching duo quickly sprang into action.
Parrish said the goal was to teach students the value in voting in a given election and how those results can make an impact in their lives.
“Voting is key to our civic participation,” he said. “I wish everyone in our country expressed their right to vote, but I wanted students to understand how important it is.”
The trips were optional though every eligible student was encouraged to participate. Not being 18 years old yet prevented some from being able to vote, while others said their parents wanted to take them to the polls for the first time.
The teachers helped ease any nerves by explaining the voting process and being open to answer and address any questions or concerns. For some students, this was their own way of achieving a historic marker in their lives.
“In my class, I have two really close childhood friends in there, so I thought it would be a really cool experience to vote for the first time with people I grew up with from elementary school,” Cypress Woods senior Catie Orwin said. “On top of that, it forced me to go out and vote.”
Neither school trip ran across hiccups or issues, with teachers mentioning how students showed their enthusiasm and excitement after leaving the polls. Cypress Woods students were given a short questionnaire after voting to address their experience and feelings in voting.
Stephanow stayed back with the bus, giving her students a few final tips before voting but also staying back so they could experience voting on their own. She said it’s a joy to watch the students return to the bus with big smiles on their faces.
Like Cypress Woods in repeating the trip, Parrish and Vargas both said they plan to do the same moving forward if the opportunity presents itself.
“As a government teacher, my content is real and students actually participated in what we talk about in class,” Parrish said. “Possibly one of the best days of my career.”