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Falls Church Teacher Believes Teens Are Prepared to Make Solid Voting Decisions

Virginia students are required to take classes to ensure they have knowledge of democratic system in the U.S.

Philippe Griffiths was so looking forward to voting in his first presidential election that he voted absentee.

For years the 18-year-old University of Virginia freshman sided with his parents beliefs and influence. Now on his own, Griffiths said he has developed his own thought pattern.

“Moving to a college campus where their influence is completely out of the equation, I can say this election is primarily based on my personal beliefs more so than my environment,” said Griffiths who is a registered Democrat.

There are a good number of Falls Church teens registering to vote in this year’s election. Pam Mahony, a government teacher at George Mason High, said teenagers in Falls Church tend to be very well informed about politics – probably at least as informed as the general public. She said the teens reflect the civic pride and responsibility that they hear at home and in their community.

For more than a decade, Mahony has taught students about how the government works including the election process. Unlike some other states, Virginia requires a year of U.S. and state government in order to receive a high school diploma, Mahony said.  The students study the roots of democracy, the intentions of the “Founding Fathers,” Federalism, the three branches, public policy, the influence of interest groups and the media, political ideologies, political parties, elections, and state and local government.

“In addition, students in Falls Church also take civics in middle school and younger students are introduced to the basic institutional processes,” Mahony said.  “So, I think Virginia does a great job ensuring that students leave high school with a firm foundation in democracy and their role in it.”

Griffiths, a 2012 Mason High graduate, said he didn’t learn enough in high school to know how to go about voting, partially because of his lack of interest but also simply because the election and its process does not apply to the majority of is students.

“Being young, most of my peers don't watch news channels or read the newspaper regularly, however the media and social scene definitely have a strong hold on my beliefs,” Griffiths said. “When those who you are closest to think a certain way, it often influences your own beliefs. This is true for me in terms of friends and idols in the media.”

Early exposure to government helps teens, Mahony said. Teenagers do notice when we get involved in our community to make a difference, she said. 

“They are astute observers of adults and they have many comments about negative campaigning and adults who don't act with the integrity that we ask of our kids,” she said. 

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