Clark County School District students take stands at KidsVention 2013

It hadn’t begun yet, but the cheering wouldn’t stop.

And neither did the red, white and blue hand-shaped clappers fluttering in everyone’s hands high above their heads. Balloons in the same colors banked the empty stage in tall columns.

Everything about it screamed political rally, except the screams themselves.

High-pitched shrieks erupted not from fervent voters and die-hard party-liners, but from 2,000 fifth- and seventh-graders. Similar to a political party’s rally, they gathered to take a stand on school policies from dress codes to whether they should be forced to eat healthy lunches and the effectiveness of student suspensions.

“Welcome to KidsVention 2013,” shouted the host, winning a rowdy response from the Clark County School District students from 16 elementary and middle schools at the Henderson Pavilion on Wednesday.

What was a small annual convention — culminating a lesson on voting, political debates and being a responsible citizen — has quadrupled in size in 15 years, CCSD organizer Joyce Woodhouse said. Because more teachers have volunteered to be trained on the curriculum, KidsVention has outgrown several venues.

“It’s a minipolitical convention without the party politics,” Woodhouse said as she scurried backstage to make last-minute preparations before giving the order to start KidsVention.

Although unable to vote and half the size of your usual rally participants, students lack no intensity, said Thorpe Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Allison Clayton as other teachers plugged their ears. And it’s quite a sight, she said, noting that students are probably more excited about voting than most adults would be.

“For the kids, it means their thoughts matter,” Clayton said. “They’re at that age where they feel they’re not being heard enough. Debating, especially, is right up a fifth-grader’s alley.”

And debating is what the students heard Wednesday as members of the state Legislature and high school debate teams vied against each other in four debates.

Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, fought for requiring healthy lunches but — as was often the case — lost to a high schooler.

“When I think of America, I think of freedom,” said opponent and Green Valley High School student Phyl Demetriou. “Would you rather eat broccoli and vegetables all the time or have the choice to eat chocolate once in a while?”

The spectators went wild. One boy near the front stood on his seat and turned around during the vote against forced nutritious lunches, waving others to vote no.

The high school debaters know how to reach their peers and even turn student stances around, said Clayton, recalling the debate on plastic last year.

“If you’re getting rid of plastic, you’re getting rid of all your candy wrapped in plastic,” said a high schooler in last year’s debate, dealing a death blow to the opponent.

Aiden Valenzuela, a 10-year-old from Carl Elementary School, in the northwest valley, came into KidsVention with the stance that dollar bills should be taken out of circulation, which was one of the debate topics.

In preparation, his class researched the topic. Green Valley High School student Sabrina Singh changed his mind with one argument. Without $1 bills, people won’t be as giving to charities and tipping the less fortunate.

“I didn’t think of that,” he said, siding with 82 percent of the other students.

Being open-minded to the other side of the argument, or the other candidate, is what students need to take away from KidsVention, School Board President Carolyn Edwards emphasized. She instills this in the youngest of students when reading to classes. She lets them pick the book but first holds up a few options with the backs facing students.

“Some say the brown one, others say the green one,” recalled Edwards, who then explains to students that they must make educated decisions.

Don’t judge anything by its cover, especially when voting as they grow up. “Ask questions.”

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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