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SOUTH BEACH: LAGUNA BEACH

No Mud Thrown in Students' Political Campaigns

November 03, 1998|STEVE CARNEY

They pick up one another's fallen campaign signs, cheer their opponents' speeches and never go negative.

These are not your typical candidates, but rather students running for office at Thurston Middle School in Laguna Beach. There, they copy the format of adult campaigns, culminating in a political convention Monday and elections today, but they leave out the nastier practices that have evolved around the county, state and nation.

"They had a blast," Assistant Principal Chris Duddy said of Monday's convention, where the school band played rousing music and student candidates gave speeches, to the appreciation of their 300 or so fellow students.

"There was a purpose to this. It wasn't all just throwing confetti and having a good time," Duddy said. In teaching the students about the electoral process, school officials decided the lesson will stick better if the kids participate.

Every year, the school's 21 social studies classes emulate state political delegations, sending representatives to the convention and nominating candidates for student council offices: president, vice president, one representative each for grades six through eight, and commissioners of finance, sports and entertainment, communications and records. In addition to the candidate speeches, delegation members have to learn about their states and hold forth on their respective commonwealths.

Convention organizer Thea Foss, the school librarian, said the candidates have to abide by what she called "the Watergate clause." If they don't represent the school positively, obey rules, maintain a C average and act as good citizens, they can be removed from office.

"It's interesting to see how some of the kids clean up their act because they want to run for office," she said. "I think, as a country, we could learn a lot from this."

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