Photo courtesy of Kamehameha Schools
It was a real-life civic lesson they won't forget.
On July 2, about 400 guests gathered at Kamehameha School's Kapālama campus for the 2018 Hawaii News Now Super Debate. The crowd – which included juniors Stephaie Albaña and Anjali Cash, Head of School Ruth Fletcher and Director of Educational Programs Sophie Halliday – gathered to listen to the views of candidates running for three key seats in Hawai'i's upcoming elections – Hawai'i Congressional District 1, lieutenant governor and governor.
"I was particularly impressed with how much our students knew about state issues and how invested they were in staying involved, so they could join in to make our state better," Fletcher remarked.
"Preparing for the debate gave the students the opportunity to research and think critically about the issues that concerned them and ask insightful questions," Halliday said.
The civic experience was part of the Stevens Global Leadership Program.
The girls sat with students from Kamehemeha Schools as they watched the action unfold live. Students were invited to ask the candidates questions that will shape their futures. They didn't mind spending a summer evening outdoors at the event – which ran well past 10 p.m. and was met by rain showers and heavy winds – because it brought them insight and a new perspective about the political process and the opportunity to watch a debate in-person.
Albaña was prepared to ask questions about the educational system and teacher salary and assuring Hawaii's self-sustainability and Cash had questions concerning education, coral reefs and medical care.
Watching the debate live allowed the students to experience non-verbal communication cues from the participants.
"It's very different to see the candidates debating live rather than on a screen," Albaña said. "As someone who is interested in psychology, it was fascinating to see the whole spectrum of all that is going on, like the micro-expressions and gestures of every candidate. This allowed me to see what they were saying without talking."
Like any new experience, there were surprises the girls hadn't expected.
"I was taken aback when some of the candidates targeted each other specifically," Albaña said. "But I learned that this is a tactic in political debates. I also learned that in debates, you need to speak clearly and get straight to the point. If you don't, you'll lose your audiences' attention because you've been speaking too long or you're speaking about something unrelated to the issue at hand."
The entire grouped walked away with a better understanding of the candidates that are vying for a chance to shape Hawaii's future.
"The girls were inspired by how each candidate cared so much about serving the public and working to make the state better," Fletcher said. "They recognized that the candidates had different perspectives, views and plans for how to make Hawai'i better for everyone, and each thought they would do the job best. Most importantly, the girls were able to witness civic discourse around sensitive issues and see democracy in action."