MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD)- Students at the University School of the Lowcountry will conduct their annual exit polling at voting precincts across Mount Pleasant on Tuesday.
Throughout the school year students at the University School of the Lowcountry, which serves grades 3-12, are encouraged to explore local and state politics by hearing from different candidates, learning about political parties, and discussing issues of civic engagement and governance. This curriculum culminates in a yearly exit-polling project in which students in 3rd through 10th-grade visit precincts to ask voters about their choices.
Then, students return to campus and use the information they gathered to make predictions about the outcomes of the races. This year, due to COVID-19, University School students will conduct exit polls at 16 precincts across Daniel Island and East Cooper, instead of their usual 30 precincts.
Head of School Jason Kreutner said the project provides an opportunity for students to become more engaged with local government, learn about democratic processes and statistics.
“One of the best ways we believe in people learning stuff is by doing it,” he said. “We’ve already done what citizens should do which is we’ve met a lot of these candidates directly ourselves, first-hand, and now we’re going to administer an exit poll, so it’s a lesson in statistics and demographics.”
In addition to conducting exit polling, the students have had the opportunity to hear from different candidates and organizations including Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie, Mount Pleasant Mayoral candidate Kathy Landing, Mount Pleasant town council member Howard Chapman, and representatives from the League of Women Voters and the Charleston County Board of Elections.
“We know that giving people a finely honed sense of critical thinking skills enables them to navigate through,” he said.
Kreutner noted that because voting turnout tends to be lower in municipal elections, that can provide important lessons to students and spark conversation about why people do not turn out to vote for local governments.
“It will be a valuable, worthy experience for them because only the most passionate voters vote for municipal elections, so they’re very informed too,” he said. “It’s an interesting insight and you can tell it as a parent or a professional but it’s different when they experience it.”
Students aged 16 and 17 do not participate in the exit polling project but are instead encouraged to serve as poll workers on Election Day. In 2020, high school students at the University School launched an initiative to attract, train, and support poll workers so that precincts could remain fully staffed and open. The Unversity School was responsible for 30 of the 54 youth volunteers in Charleston County last year.
“Now we have more of our students doing it and that’s basically going to be the expectation,” Kreutner said. “If you’re sixteen, you won’t be exit polling anymore, you’ll be helping to administer the election and that’s pretty cool.”
8th grader, Reagan Otey, said participating in the exit-polling project has allowed her to form her own political opinions and engage with the community.
“You get to see a bunch of different opinions and you get to talk to a bunch of different people,” Otey said. “I’ve learned that all opinions have things that you might agree with or things you don’t agree with so it’s better to educate yourself.”
Bennett Gilhuloi, a 10th grader, agreed that conducting exit polling provides valuable insight into voting in the Lowcountry and has helped him become more informed.
“The experience so far for me has been awesome,” he said. “I’ve been all over, I’ve been in Downtown Charleston all the way to Isle of Palms so I’ve gotten to see an array of candidates and I’ve gotten to see the opinions of what people think in certain spots.”
Kreutner said he hopes the exit-polling project prepares his students for the future.
“Hopefully when they’re older they should know what they’re doing in September, October,” Kreutner said.
University School of the Lowcountry students will be on sight at precincts from 7:30 AM to 8 PM asking voters to fill out an anonymous one-page survey.