Acing the test: Sophomores in Emily Corey’s Seminar Civics class at West Forsyth hold forum for WS/FC School Board candidates

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 19, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Candidates for the Board of Education with the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools began filing in Simpson Gymnasium at West Forsyth last Wednesday a little before 6 p.m.

All 28 running for a seat on the board were invited to attend the forum planned, organized and run by the Seminar Civic Class of Emily Corey, and 18 attended.

Members of the community also began filtering in a little after 6. If the sophomores from Corey’s class were the least bit nervous from all of their last-minute planning, they certainly weren’t showing it.

Candidates — current members of the board and hopefuls vying for a seat — were greeted with an information packet, designed and written by the students, which included a map of their assigned desk for the public meet and greet as well as responses offered by 15 candidates to several questions about their platforms.

The candidates were briefed about the process for the evening by Claire Reinthale, one of the students in Corey’s class who was a designated media liaison.

Each candidate got 90 seconds to introduce themselves. Once everyone was finished, the meet and greet would commence from their designated area in the gym.

There were approximately 75 members from the community in attendance scattered on both sides of the gym, listening intently to what the candidates had to say. And they approached candidates following their 90-second introductions to ask more specific questions about their ideas.

In the back of the room, Corey’s class stood on the baseline of the gym and took turns introducing the candidates by party and district. There were also two class members who served as the timekeepers during the introductions — one who lifted a “15-second warning” sign and the other who was keeping time on her phone.

WS/FCS Superintendent Tricia McManus and a news crew from CNN were also on hand.

Talk about getting a hands-on educational experience about government — one run and managed effectively and efficiently by a group of students who can’t even vote yet.

“I think my biggest takeaway is that you’re never too young to get involved,” Reinthale said. “You can always put your voice out there and have a say. Just because you are not an adult or you aren’t able to vote yet, people will listen to you, no matter how old you are. The feedback were getting so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t imagine that so many people would show up and that so many candidates would come, and they would be so excited to come here and talk at something that a class of students organized. It’s such a cool experience to see our idea play out in real life.”

Richard Watts, who is running for a seat on the school board, is a retired former principal and social studies teacher.

“As someone who taught history for 10 years, this gives me great joy to know that we are making education come alive,” Watts said. “A lot of times in the history and civics classrooms, we are teaching facts and dates and important events. But connecting that reality and learning to apply it to where we are today, that’s one lesson that these kids will not forget. Having each candidate getting the chance to speak tonight was a great opportunity. I think that when people leave here tonight, you have a lot of information. What a great job these students did.”

McManus said that this event was the first forum she attended for school board candidates.

“This event was designed, created and implemented by our students and I felt like it was important for me to be here to support them,” McManus said. “I loved the format they came up with. It was short and succinct, and you got the chance to hear from each candidate. The fact that so many of them were here is very powerful. I appreciate them for taking the time to educate our students on why they are running and what they are hoping to achieve by being on the school board.”

Rylan Santos, another member of the class who was one of the media liaisons, echoed McManus’ sentiment.

“Being on the school board is a very important job and a lot of these people tonight are very passionate about what they do,” Santos said. “It’s good to see them investing their time in this. I was very pleased with the turnout.”

Leah Crowley, who is a current school board member, also came away impressed with the event.

“What this says about education is that there’s a lot that we are doing right,” Crowley said. “There’s no doubt about that. Do we have room for improvement? Of course. But there are clearly a lot that of things that are going very well in our district to see an event like this put on by students.”

Kevin Spainhour, in his first full year as the principal at West Forsyth, opened the event with an introduction and welcome to everyone who was in attendance. He was a keen observer throughout the duration.

“They did an excellent job,” Spainhour said. “There’s two pieces to this. There’s the organization and all the pre-planning and then the unknown of how the night’s going to go. It’s great to see all the candidates who came and to see our students playing a part in the process. That is really beneficial for them. There’s a lot of different types of learning but learning from experience is a great opportunity and these kids got a lot of experience tonight.”

With Corey and the rest of her class able to let out a sigh once the event concluded, she managed to flash a smile when asked about her assessment.

“They did a great job and I think they learned a little something in the process,” she said. “I hope the biggest thing they took away from this is that they have a voice. While they may be young, they still are important and have a vested interest.”