After two months of preparation, the time had arrived.
The presidential candidates sat at a table, flanked by campaign managers poised to hand off meticulously prepared note cards.
The audience at Holy Family School quieted, and moderator Jacob Ovaska began the debate, asking for opening statements.
Since 1988, eighth-grade students at Holy Family have had mock presidential debates every four years.
The tradition continued Wednesday with Robert Kurta and Patrick Brennan serving as Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, respectively, and Emilee Mulhall and Anthony Zeno as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
“We can’t afford four more years of Barack Obama,” Robert said.
The four candidates fielded questions about the economy, health care, outsourcing jobs, use of natural resources and education. Students serving as reporters created and delivered the questions.
Like the candidates they impersonated, Robert and Emilee clashed on many topics.
Robert said he would cut taxes for the middle class; Emilee said she would cut taxes for the middle class and raise taxes on high-income earners. Robert said the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, must be repealed and replaced; Emilee argued it should stay because under it, more people will be insured and the cost of health-care insurance will decrease.
They were helped by campaign managers Kirsten Joss, Christopher Lewis, Tayler Myers and Jensen Kniska.
Linda Taylor, an eighth grade social studies teacher, said students began researching both political parties and candidates when school began in August.
“They researched and went online to gather information. We pulled up clips of the debates and watched it in class,” she said.
Every eighth grader played a role, from U.S. Secret Service agents to reporters to campaign managers.
“It took a lot of research and getting to know both sides. We talked about taxes and education and how things could improve under each candidate’s policies,” Emilee said.
Students in third through seventh grade observed the debate, which was designed to inform them before the school’s Nov. 2 mock election.
Several parents also attended. Joe Zeno said the assignment increased his son Anthony’s interest in the presidential election.
“This forces them to look into issues instead of getting a 30-second sound bite or advertisement, and they have to explain their position from the candidates’ perspective,” Zeno said.