CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Whatever happens on election days has an impact on their lives, speakers told hundreds of Walker Valley High School freshmen Wednesday.
While many upperclassmen were taking state tests, freshmen spent the morning hearing from Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Republican Party leader Jonathan Cantrell, County Trustee Mike Smith and state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.
They also watched a video featuring President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney and heard songs by a school choral group.
"Why vote? Why would you not vote?" Rowland asked students. "I don't think you can come up with a reason not to vote. ... It's important to let your voice be heard, as an American, as a citizen."
Rowland challenged the students to consider, when they become adults, a being candidates for office themselves.
"I've been listening to the elections, Romney and Obama. Just following them," said Olivia Lee, freshman class president. "It's important for our future and what happens later in life."
Freshman Katie Medley said election issues are "important to know for later on. So you can make decisions."
They, and some of their classmates, will just be old enough to vote in 2016.
Wednesday was the first time Walker Valley has devoted a day to politics and government for the freshman class, American government teacher Rudy Felton said.
He said the school encourages all its eligible students to register as voters.
"They need to know this is very important to them," Felton said.
Those sentiments were repeated by Cantrell, Smith and Bell.
"I would venture to say that someone in here will have an impact on others as an elected official," Smith told the students filling the school's auditorium.
He said local decisions on schools are being considered, including an expansion at Walker Valley.
Bell gave students his cellphone number and said they, just as the adults in their lives, are welcome to call him with ideas and concerns.
Some Tennessee laws have been influenced by students, he said, including an anti-bullying law and giving local boards the right to decide team mascot names instead of a state agency.
Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...