More than a dozen Richmond Hill High School seniors voted for the first time Thursday as part of the school’s senior government class.
Chaperoned by government teacher Russ Carpenter, the 15 who voted were among 27 students in senior government classes who rode a school bus down to the Bryan County Administrative Complex to watch as early voting took place.
It’s all part of learning to be a part of a free society, Carpenter said.
“Part of the state curriculum for social studies is civic participation, including voting,” said Carpenter, who participates in civics himself as a city councilman for his home town. “We are fortunate at RHHS to teach government in the 12thgrade, which makes voting, and really the entire course, relatable to students.”
Students are in classes taught by Carpenter, Sharon Worsham and Jennifer Sack. They included Brendan Jarboe, who aims to attend either the U.S. Coast Guard Academy or Clemson to study oceanographic engineering.
Jarboe said he’s been looking forward to voting for some time.
“It was actually very satisfying to be part of a government system and see how it worked up close,” he said, and expressed surprise at learning turnout in Bryan County in the last primary was around 15 percent.
“I kind of expected a little bit more than that,” Jarboe said. “I didn’t expect something super high, like 80 percent, but even 40-50 percent sounds low. But 15 percent?”
Jarboe, like classmates Jamar Gardner and Carolina Beach, said participating in elections as a voter “keeps everything going,” and it was important for younger voters to go to the ballot box and participate in the process.
“Every vote matters,” he said. “They all matter in some way.”
Gardner called taking time to vote a civic duty. And he was thrilled to experience it for the first time.
“It felt wonderful to vote because I was expressing my civic duty as an American, and as a young adult I can finally take advantage of that situation,” Gardner said.
The JROTC cadet who plans to go to Georgia Southern and eventually into a career as a military officer – “because I want to serve and fight for my country,” he said --- emphasized the importance of voting for all people.
“Everyone should vote,” Gardner said. “And me being African American, back in the day, I didn’t have that right. Now I do have that right, because Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X and others fought for that. So why not do what my father and grandfather want me to do? They want me to vote. My opinion does matter. I need to show it by voting.”
Beach, who wants to attend UGA and eventually help design and build water systems in Israel to bring reliable water supplies to the Middle East, echoed the “duty” theme.
“Voting is one’s civic duty and is how citizen’s communicate to politicians,” she said. “Being able to participate in that is a great part of turning 18.”
Beach thanked RHHS government teachers, who she said “have gone out of their way to allow students the opportunity to vote,” by setting up the class.
“After being taught about how elections take place and how our government runs, it was refreshing to take a trip outside the classroom to apply what we learned.”
Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler’s first election as a voter was when John F. Kennedy was running for president. As a teen he voted in Gilchrist County Florida all those years ago. Thursday, he made a trip down to the Administration Building to talk to the students, and said it was encouraging to see young people participate in the process.
“It’s always good to see them involved,” Fowler said. “Apathy is what’s killing this country, especially when you get into the politics up in D.C. We keep sending people up there and nothing happens, nothing changes. If more people got involved, that might change.”
Carpenter thanked Bryan County Voting Registrar Warren Miller and Elections Supervisor Cindy Reynolds and poll workers for helping students get the up close look at how elections work. Reynolds said it was a good experience.
“It was just phenomenal,” she said. “The way they come up here to vote, and they’re so excited about it. It shows they care about what’s going on in the country. I’m glad they’re out here, casting their votes.”
Carpenter also was happy to see the students get fired up about voting.
“It’s great to see such enthusiasm and a sense of duty in our students,” Carpenter said. “This is something I believe will continue for the rest of their lives if they understand, at an early age, the importance of exercising the right to vote. At the end of the day, It’s simply patriotic.”
It’s also common sense, the students said.
“To me, if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain about government,” she said.