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Baked Beans or Clam Chowder? Needham Second Graders Vote in Mock Election

St. Joseph Elementary School students learned about the election process by helping to pick Massachusetts' state dish.

Second graders at St. Joseph Elementary School got a taste of the voting process on Monday, Nov. 5, as they cast their ballots in a race they could really sink their teeth into: Baked Beans vs. Clam Chowder.

As their classmates waved campaign signs and shouted words of support for their respective candidates, the students headed down the hallway to the polls Monday morning to write down their choice for which food should become the Massachusetts State Dish.

In the end, the winner by a slim margin was New England Clam Chowder.

“As part of the social studies curriculum, we’ve been learning about what it means to be an American citizen. The children have been learning about elections and voting and national and state symbols,” said Kaitlin Lynch, a second grade teacher at St. Joseph. “The second grade team really wanted to develop an election that was non-political and age-appropriate for the children, and we noticed that Massachusetts was lacking in a state symbol for state dish, so we thought that that was a perfect topic for our election.”

Over the past few weeks, the second graders learned the history of each dish and made campaign posters to support their “candidates.” 

“They even taste-tested the dishes last week, so they’re really becoming informed voters,” Lynch said.

Though some of the students were a little leery of trying baked beans or clam chowder, once they saw their classmates enjoy the foods, they became more adventurous, and by the end of the taste test, all of the food was gone, Lynch said.

On Monday, the second graders made one final plea for their choices, shouting "Baked beans!" or "Clam chowder!" as their classmates passed by on their way to vote.

“The teachers really wanted to do something meaningful for the children,” St. Joseph Principal Charlotte Kelly said. “When you’re seven and eight years old, how do you understand what elections are about? They’ve really taught them about the whole voting process.”

The teachers plan to have their students petition the Massachusetts legislature to see if the outcome of their Nov. 5 beans vs. chowder election can truly become the commonwealth’s state dish.

“That is our ultimate goal, to take the winner of this election to the statehouse and try to make the symbol official, which many other schools have done in the past with other state symbols,” Lynch said.

Their efforts might even result in a field trip, Kelly hinted.

“Wouldn’t that be great if we could go to Beacon Hill?” she said.

The students' election education didn't end on Monday. On Tuesday, Nov. 6, as adults around Needham and throughout the country cast their votes for the next president, St. Joseph students in grades 1-5 will also vote—choosing between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in a school-wide mock presidential election.

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