Arkansas Arts Academy eighth-graders are several years away from becoming eligible to vote, but they can still spread the word about the importance of voting.
The students used their art skills to design and create more than 200 nonpartisan postcards to send to newly registered Benton County voters, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The postcards reminded recipients that early voting was under way for the Nov. 6 general election. They also provided the website address — www.voterview.org — where people can view sample ballots.
"I feel like it was important to say, 'Hey, you have the right to vote. Don't forget that,'" said Matthew Andrews, 13, of Bella Vista.
Matthew is one of 32 students in the Aspire classes taught by Amy Gillespie, who devised the project as part of a civics lesson.
Aspire, a new class this year at the academy, is designed to teach eighth-graders what it means to be an active citizen. It also incorporates preparation for life after high school, whether that's college or a career, according to Principal Heather Wright.
"I felt we needed a class to help eighth-graders better prepare for what high school is like and start thinking about what they wanted to do in the future," Wright said.
The course name comes from the first word in the school's tagline, "Aspire. Achieve. Advance."
Gillespie and her students discussed how government works, how voting works, and job descriptions for various elected offices.
They also discussed voter turnout. Students were surprised to learn about 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the November 2016 elections, Gillespie said.
"My students were guessing around 98 percent," she said.
The students were even more troubled, she said, to learn that only 4.5 percent of Rogers voters participated in the election in August to extend a 1 percent sales tax.
"They said, 'We have to do something about that,'" Gillespie said. "So that's the message we're trying to accomplish here, is that hey, you have a voice, you should use your voice."
Gillespie told her students research shows people are more likely to read a piece of mail that's hand-written than the typical mass-produced leaflet.
The goal, she said, was to "write something that's going to get somebody's attention and make it pretty enough they might want to stick it on their refrigerator."
Lily McCarver, 13, of Lowell said the students accomplished their mission. Her favorite part was using her artistry to try to influence people in a positive way.
One student's postcard is decorated with a lot of red, white and blue. In the middle is a depiction of Rosie the Riveter proclaiming, "We Can Do It! Vote November 6th."
Gillespie, a Bella Vista resident who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Bentonville School Board last year, collected the voters' addresses. She didn't request names or political affiliations. Students addressed their postcards to "human being" or "cool voter" and applied stamps to their products.
They crafted a news release to announce their endeavor. Anticipating media coverage, they also practiced their interview skills with each other.
"We really tried to pull as many educational components into the project as possible," Gillespie said.
"It took us a long time," Matthew said about making the postcards. "It would be bad if people just said, 'Oh, whatever,' and threw it away.
Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.