St. Joe's students engage in civic education

"It raises awareness to younger generations to vote"
Posted at 4:54 PM, Oct 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-02 03:48:52-04

TOWN OF TONAWANDA, NY (WKBW) — One of the most unusual races this election season is featuring two well-known incumbents Republican Ed Rath and Democrat Sean Ryan, in the newly redrawn 61st State Senate district that runs from Grand Island into Amherst. 

Both candidates will square off Wednesday, November 2 in what will be the only debate at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in the Town of Tonawanda.

St. Joe's students prepare questions for Wednesday's debate.

7 News Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley was invited to watch students prepare.

AP American Government Teacher Ted Lina sat at the head of a conference room table, surrounded by students, as he helps guide to select questions for the debate.

lina students.jpg
AP American Government Teacher Ted Lina listens as students read quesitons.

“Who's got the next question? What's the topic,” Lina asked the students.

“It really does encourage younger people how to vote and it raises awareness to younger generations to vote,” replied Matt Voelkl, senior. 

Matt Voelkl, senior. 

Students work to frame each question with an explanation in a non-partisan format.

“And we stay away from gotcha questions,” Lina noted. “We are not here to trap candidates. We are here for a free exchange of ideas which is what a debate should be all about."

St. Joe's President Christopher Fulco tells me it's so important for students to dive into the issues so they become informed voters in the future.

St. Joe's President Christopher Fulco.

“We're really trying to create independent, critical thinkers and that's what this debate, here at school, allows us to do,” Fulco remarked.  

I was asked not to reveal specific topics so candidates would not be tipped off ahead of time, but I did ask students what topics are important to them.

Robert Anspach, senior.

“For me, it's probably an issue with schools and the safety of schools because this is a place we come to every day. It’s a place we should feel safe in and have an environment where we can learn and not have to worry about outside things,” described Robert Anspach, senior.

St. Joe's students prepare for debate.

“It's really important to me because there are many people, who especially don't have the opportunity that many of us on this panel, and it’s really just a blessing to be on it and get the experience,” explained Dwayne Jones, senior.

Jones is part of the debate panel and is also president of the equity and justice club at the school. He tells me he hopes to someday be a civil rights attorney.

Dwayne Jones, senior.

“I would like to fight for people who are incarcerated in jail because many people who are in jail — do not have a true voice that they can really stick out for crimes, especially that they haven't done,” responded Dwayne Jones, senior. 

Wednesday will mark the 38th year Lina has guided students in a political debate at the school. 

St. Joe's students prepare for debate.

“What I'm very excited about — is that students continue to be interested in the entire process. I'm asked early in the year — 'are we going to have a debate this year’ — who asked that in 11th or 12th grade? — you know who asks that?  — St. Joe’s students,” reflected Lina.

Wednesday's debate begins at 9:30 a.m. You can watch it on St. Joe's Facebookor Youtube Channel.