Seventh-grader follows Trump-Clinton presidential debate with national online student discussion

Audrey Caro Gomez

While many people took to Facebook and Twitter after last week’s presidential debate, one local student got a chance to swap notes with a bunch of her peers in an online roundtable discussion.

Malia Hewitt, 12, who goes by Josie, attended the online session from her home in Sweet Home.

The seventh-grader does school at her dining room table at home through Connections Academy, a virtual public school in which students interact with teachers and other students via the Internet. On Thursday morning, Oct. 20, after watching the debate the night before, she joined the discussion. Most of the 69 participants were in grades nine through 12, but some elementary and middle school students joined in as well.

Students and moderators could talk to each other and also type in a chat pod. This is Josie’s second year attending Oregon Connections Academy, a statewide online charter school.

Josie was in the debate club last year.

“It was a really good experience,” she said. “I learned a lot from it because I want to be a lawyer and I wanted to learn more about debating. I really learned a lot from it.”

The emphasis of the roundtable moderators’ questions Thursday was on the candidates’ debate styles, tactics and body language.

The first question was about which candidate evolved the most over the three presidential debates.

“Well, they argued a lot and you’re not supposed to be arguing when you’re debating, you’re supposed to be debating,” Josie said. “I felt like Trump tried to make Hillary feel intimidated. So he was being kind of mean to her and then she was telling lies. I mean, both of them are liars.”

Her classmate’s responses referenced aggression and self control. One of them pointed out that both candidates continued to talk over the moderator.

“I thought the students’ insights were very good,” said Jerry Krummel.

Krummel, a former Oregon mayor and state legislator, moderated the roundtable. He is a Connections Academy AP social studies teacher.

“They shared their opinions very openly,” Krummel said. “The students were highly engaged, so I was very pleased with the turnout and the participation. I think for the most part the students stayed on topic and on task.”

Some comments in the chat area strayed – students shared endorsements and insults of both candidates.

“I was saying this isn’t about opinions, this about debate,” Josie said.

When Krummel removed the chat pod, everyone settled down a bit, he said.

“What I think the takeaway on this is, if we think students aren’t paying attention, we should look again,” Krummel said. “These students had watched the debates and were watching how the candidates have conducted themselves. They are not easily swayed and they are looking for candidates who will do what they say.”

Krummel said the mix of students was diverse – some for Trump, some for Clinton and some were still testing the waters.

“There were others whose candidate (mostly Sanders supporters) who are still looking and trying to decide who they would support in this election,” he said. “I think it is very representative of the population as whole.”

Josie and her mother, Pam Hewitt, watched the primary debates too.

“I thought it was really interesting,” Josie said.

The Democratic debates were more controlled, she said.

In the three presidential debates, Josie said it seems the candidates did not answer the questions as much as change the topic.

Though she is only 12 years old, this isn’t the first election Josie has paid attention to.

She remembers the 2012 campaign.

“Even though I was probably 8, I still was really interested in politics,” Josie said. “My mom always encouraged us to be.”

Part of what Josie appreciated about the roundtable was learning the opinions of the other students, she said.

“I learned a lot about other people’s standpoints and views. I think it was really interesting to listen to the other people. Everybody had a whole bunch of different ideas which is cool. I learned a lot about the candidates actually. It’s just kind of interesting.”