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Top of the class

We have . . . a mascot

The new Challenger school makes its choice with a schoolwide election - and real voting booths.

Published September 8, 2005

SPRING HILL - A mascot represents a school's collective spirit. Recently, when students at the new Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics voted to choose a mascot, the process revealed a little bit about not just their spirit, but also their character.

"This is something the students chose, so it's really going to be theirs," said Challenger principal Sue Stoops. "It will bring the school together with an identity."

The winner by a landslide, with 903 votes, was the Challenger NaviGator, which is an upright alligator wearing a space suit.

"It goes along with the science theme," said ESE teacher Michele Plummer. "It's an alligator to go along with life sciences and biology and the astronaut suit for the other sciences."

The primary election for the mascot, which took place a few weeks ago, was a traditional middle or elementary school election. Teachers asked students to vote in their classrooms and calculated the winners by hand.

"Over 36 mascots were submitted over the summer and at the beginning of the year," said Stoops.

"Then at the primary election there were two that really rose to the top."

Those two candidates were the NaviGator and a space ship preparing to launch into orbit. And when it came time for the big decision, students were in for a big experience.

"We wanted the students to really see what it was like to vote," said Stoops. "This is the same process their parents use. They really loved the experience."

Representatives from the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections got to the school early one Friday morning to set up booths and the machine that tallies and authenticates the votes. This turned the center square of the building into something like a district voting area for any county, state or national general election.

Elizabeth Townsend, community relations for the Supervisor of Elections, said she set up the voting procedure at the school the same way she would for anything else.

"It gets the students familiar with the equipment," said Townsend. "Kids sign in and do everything the same as adults do it. This makes it less intimidating for them when they actually start voting."

As for the students, they said they look forward to the time when they can vote in a real national election and that this experience shed some light on the process.

"I feel like it's going to help us learn to vote when we're young so later it will help us when we vote for our president," seventh-grader Destiny Aldridge said.

Not only was the voting set up practical and preparatory, it was also incorporated into lesson plans for some classes.

"We're learning tally marks and graphs in my class right now, so we incorporated this into it," said Sharon Twyman, a first grade teacher at Challenger.

"The students learned how the option that gets the most votes wins and the one with the least votes loses."

Tony Roberts, a sixth grade geography teacher, said he plans to use the experience to teach about voting later in the year.

"This is a good way to let them know that they have the freedom to chose what they want," said Roberts.

With the mascot being the collective spirit of the school, there must have been an underlying collective will among the students because the NaviGator beat the space ship by almost twice as many votes.

"I didn't expect there to be this much of a difference," Stoops said. "I thought it would be much closer. I would say we have a strong majority here."

When the winner was announced over the school loudspeaker, the building rocked with approval.

"I was walking down the hallway when they announced it and I could hear cheering in every classroom I passed," said Plummer. "The walls were shaking."

As the year goes on, the NaviGator will adorn more and more school articles, such as the athletic gear and the school newsletters.

"I'm really happy knowing most people got what they wanted," seventh grader Jordan Schaefer said. "Now we have something really cool representing our school."

[Last modified September 8, 2005, 01:49:23]

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