Local students take elective

Most of the students who gathered at City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza last week to register voters weren’t old enough to get in the polling booth themselves.

Still, the teens were doing plenty for the democratic process.

They wore red T-shirts and red, white and blue hats, and bore signs that read "VOTE — Your Future Depends on It."

The Sept. 17 rally in honor of National Citizenship Day was a project of Student Voices, a national organization that encourages young people to learn about the government and to vote. Locally, the program is based out of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. Penn’s Phyllis Kaniss, who runs the Philadelphia initiative, also heads the national program, which encompasses more than a dozen cities.

The High School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Broad and Christian streets is a participating member in Student Voices. That means CAPA students show up at the organization’s debates, candidate speeches and other events. Last week’s rally was no exception.

The local teens addressed citizens’ responsibility to get involved in government, and the low voter turnout — hovering around 30 percent — for 18- to 24-year-olds.

"Our generation has to take a stand," said Julia Robbins, a senior at the school.

Her classmate, Wing Ho, said the students’ aim is to become "role models to the future."

Both said they were looking forward to voting once they turn 18.

Sue Rosenthal, a CAPA social studies teacher, said she already has seen the program make an impact.

"I have seen kids not wanting to vote, and now, because of Student Voices, they want to," she said. "It is essential that all people who can vote, vote."

At CAPA, participation in Student Voices is voluntary. The program is based out of the high school’s social studies department. Students who sign up will be graded on how well they carry out the hands-on experience.

Last week, CAPA’s young ambassadors were joined by more than 100 other students from Northeast, Olney and Roxborough high schools. More Philadelphia schools plan to get involved in Student Voices next year.

Of course, the group’s current focus is the upcoming mayoral election between Democratic incumbent Mayor John Street and Republican challenger Sam Katz. For Philadelphia residents, the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 6.

Through that date, Student Voices is airing a public service announcement about voter registration on all TV broadcast channels and Clear Channel radio stations in the city.

For more information about Student Voices in Philadelphia, go to www.student-voices.org and click on "Philadelphia."

Make your voice heard

To register to vote:

* Visit Pennsylvania’s Department of State Web site at www.dos.state.pa.us

* Call 800-552-VOTE.

To qualify to vote:

* You must be a citizen of the United States for at least one month before the next election.

* You must be a resident of Pennsylvania for at least 30 days before the next election.

* You will be at least 18 years old on the day of the next election.