Penn Yan students argue issues

Gwen Chamberlain
Elnora Hicks explains her reasoning for lowering the voting age to 16 to John Prendergast during the Government Symposium Feb. 14.

Should 16-year-olds be able to vote? Should there be Congressional term limits? Should the Electoral College be continued? How do you interpret the Second Amendment?

Those are all topics that can launch a spirited discussion in any setting. But last week, the seventh grade classrooms at Penn Yan Middle School buzzed with students defending their positions on the issues based on their own argument essay.

They presented their essays to volunteer members of the community — elected and appointed officials, business people, educators and more — and answered questions challenging their positions at the school’s Government Symposium.

It was all part of a project related to their study of The Constitution in Social Studies, combined with the art of crafting an argument-in English-Language Arts. The two departments collaborated with the idea that students could research an issue, take a position, and craft an argument based on their position.

In one room, Annika Reinard, Ashtyn Manchester, and Leland King all thought the voting age should not be lowered to 16. “They aren’t mature enough. They don’t have political knowledge. Sixteen-year-olds think moment-to-moment,” said King.

But across the room, Elnora Hicks said 16-year-olds should be able to vote because they are able to get jobs and drive. “Our opinion on how our nation works is more important than driving,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Kristina Parmelee said the right to bear arms, as proclaimed in the Second Amendment, is only intended for militias, not individuals while just a few desks away, Teagan Fingar said the Second Amendment has protected the right for people to use guns for their own personal protection.

After listening to several students defend their position in one-on-one situations, the full group of students and visitors gathered in the auditorium where visitors praised their work. 

Yates County Administrator Nonie Flynn told the students she was impressed by their poise and confidence. 

Penn Yan Police Officer Jeff Stewart, who is also the School Resource Officer, told the students they were all rock stars. 

Other visitors shared their thoughts about the project and insight into their positions in the community. “It’s about community service,” said Milo Town Supervisor Leslie Church, who is also a Yates County Legislator.