Thousands of BISD students turning out to vote

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic forced everything online, voting continues through Friday in the 2020 Kids Voting Brownsville Mock Election that is part of a civic engagement partnership among Brownsville ISD schools, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the city of Brownsville.

The election is taking place alongside the Nov. 3 general election just like it has for years, with the aim of encouraging discussion of candidates and issues in the runup to Election Day among students, their friends and families. The overriding goal is to create an informed electorate and instill lifelong voting habits among Brownsville citizens.

That was the vision of the late Father Armand Matthew of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who led numerous initiatives to heighten people’s awareness of the importance of voting and founded the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Texas at Brownsville, one of UTRGV’s legacy institutions.

Cindy Valdez, UTRGV associate vice president for college access and K-12 partnerships, said despite the pandemic and its problems there was never any thought of not having Kid Voting during what is generally agreed to be the most consequential election in generations.

“Just the fact the students are voting at school connects them to what’s going on and they see themselves as part of that process. They know the candidates and show up to vote,” she said.

Valdez has been part of the Kid Voting partnership between UTRGV and the Brownsville Independent School District since 2015, when UTB and the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg merged to form UTRGV. Once she found out aboutKid Voting Brownsville she fell in love with the program and its mission.

In past years, teachers would simply take their class to the computer lab and voting would take place entirely online, run by Kid Voting USA, of which Kid Voting Brownsville is an affiliate. This year, voting is taking place on the BISD web site through the Clever quicklink at the top right-hand corner, said Katheryn Allala King, BISD curriculum specialist, who greatly credited the district’s teachers for making the whole thing work.

As of Thursday, 11,681 BISD students had voted, each with a unique Kid Voting USA voter ID number. The K-5 ballot includes the presidential election and asks the student to choose their favorite color, subject, pet, place to visit and say whether it’s important to vote and whether they will do so once they turn 18. The 6-12 ballot adds races for U.S. senator, U.S. representative and state senator, as well as questions on whether it’s important to vote, did they talk about the election with family and friends and whether they registered to vote if they will be 18 before Election Day.

Allala King said federal guidelines established by Congress require BISD to celebrate Constitution Day every Sept. 17 and state law requires the district to celebrate Freedom Week during the week each year that includes Constitution Day.

The local initiative among UTRGV, the city of Brownsville, and BISD includes a program called “Patriotism Alive!” It requires grades K-12 to participate in the Kids Voting Week. In the spring, students participate in the Kids Voting Poster Contest. The theme for the posters follows the theme for National History Day.

This year’s NHD theme is “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding.” Each BISD campus selects a campus liaison to attend a training by UTRGV and the BISD Social Studies Department on the Saturday that is two weeks before Constitution Day. This year that date fell on Sept. 5.

But because of the pandemic, the training and everything that follows it is taking place online, including recitation of the preamble to both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as Kid Voting.