By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
For the second election year in a row, Palisadian Peter Sheehy trekked halfway across the country with students from nine different schools to witness the Iowa Presidential Caucuses firsthand.
This year, the trip included 20 high school students as well as six students in sixth grade. Most were Los Angeles-based students, with some from Detroit and two from New England: one from Connecticut and one from Massachusetts.
“We prepared the kids through a series of workshops and we use the Iowa Caucuses as the place to do experiential learning of politics and student journalism,” Sheehy explained.
Sheehy co-founded the program responsible for the trip, KidUnity, with fellow parent David Snow five years ago with the mission to “provide children with a stronger connection to their community,” which will “inspire children to solve the most demanding social problems that their generation faces.”
The program started as a conversation between two dads about a lack of fun, high-quality and readily available service learning programs. Today, programs include ULEAD – Nex Gen Women’s Leadership Program and Kindness and Community Clubs geared to students in kindergarten through third grade.
“In teaching high school in New York,” Sheehy explained, “I had a student who had attended the Iowa Caucuses and he presented to our class after returning. I thought this was a phenomenal opportunity, so in 2016 … we organized a group.”
This year, the group arrived at the Caucuses Saturday morning and left on Tuesday—and Sheehy explained that required 14- to 16-hour days.
So far, students who participated in the trip have been published in New York Magazine, Teen Vogue and Seventeen.
“The stories that the kids are publishing are really just what it’s like to be an active teenager thinking
about the future of the country and looking at the process and the candidates that appeal to them,” Sheehy explained. “It was kind of both personal reflections on that and also what was happening on the ground with the candidates.”
Sheehy shared that the group stayed at the same hotel as the Sanders’ campaign, which granted them behind-the-scenes access to the action.
“The night of the Caucuses, I was hanging out in the lobby eating pizza with his son and members of the senior campaign staff,” Sheehy said. “The next morning, he was in the elevator with some of the kids, he was in a conference room in the lobby—we could see the mood and overhear conversations.”
Other trip highlights include an off-the-record meeting with Biden’s chief of staff and his national press secretary.
Up next for Sheehy and KidUnity will be Washington, D.C., with 38 sixth-graders for a policy-based trip.
“They’re going to be researching and advocating on behalf of the environment, LGBT rights and immigration rights,” Sheehy explained. “We’re doing a civil rights history tour for Windward School and then we do after school clubs as well, all geared toward getting kids involved in service and civics.”
Sheehy shared that he hopes this type of experience motivates more kids to get involved in both national and local politics.
“Of course national politics like this are a spectacle and exciting,” Sheehy said, “but there’s so much to be done in between these every four year circuses.”
For more information, visit kidunity.us.
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