Last week, social studies teachers at R.J. Reynolds High School taught students all about the school board — what it can and cannot do, who’s on the board in Forsyth County, and what its voting districts look like.

That’s because on Oct. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m., all 14 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education candidates will meet in the Reynolds Auditorium for a forum. There will be interpreters at the event translating in Spanish and Kayah Li.

Cristofer Wiley, who teaches Civics Literacy at Reynolds, says the forum is part of a larger effort to increase civic engagement among students at the school. 

In 2020, Wiley says a group of Reynolds students won a grant from When We All Vote, an organization that aims to close the voting race and age gap to support civic engagement initiatives at their school.

One initiative was student voter registration. Wiley says students went classroom to classroom encouraging their peers to register and explaining the importance of voting. 

“I think in the space of a couple of days, we registered upwards of 60 students to vote,” Wiley said. 

The school board candidate forum is another civic engagement activity for students. Wiley says he came up with the idea for the forum along with members of the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association. 

Reynolds High School Principal Calvin Freeman wholeheartedly supported the idea, and so did the students, he says. While the adults are handling the logistics of the forum, the students will oversee the questions and topics that will be discussed.

“They have been very, very adamant about wanting to have their say, wanting to have their questions, and not being generalized or sort of whitewashed out of the conversation,” Wiley said.  

The focus of the event, he says, is intended to be on the students and welcoming them into the political discourse. 

“This is a great opportunity for them to be introduced to the idea that they have agency in and of themselves,” Wiley said. “They have voices, and for some, this is the first time — hopefully not the last time — that someone asks directly, what is it that you think?”

Once early voting for Forsyth County elections begins on Oct. 20, Wiley says the school’s civic engagement initiatives will be geared towards getting out the vote.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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