Maple Hill students take on presidential debates

Originally published in the Albany Times Union - By Dylan Rossiter 


The cut-throat 2016 presidential election came to Maple Hill High School on Thursday in a debate.

While snow came down outside, flames flew inside the school auditorium. The three candidates, portrayed by students in the school's Election 2016 class, battled on everything from immigration to the economy and the death penalty.

Teachers Pat Austin and Lucas Ashby created the course.

"When we came up with the idea for the class we both knew this was something we wanted to do," Austin said. "I couldn't be happier with the way it went. With everything we asked the kids to do, they killed it up there."

The event included fact checkers, moderators, the media, boos and cheers, and the official presidential debate theme song.

"We wanted to make this as real of a presidential debate as possible," Austin said.

In line with the three actual debates, Donald Trump, portrayed by junior Connor Hallof 518 Sports, often interjected phrases like "wrong" and "she's crooked," aimed at Hillary Clinton, portrayed by freshman Julia Pugliese.

"A lot went into it, and I had to say a lot of controversial things today that I don't nearly agree with, but it was fun dressing up and playing the bully in Mr. Trump," Hall said.

To make the event informative and accurate, Austin and Ashby had the actors watch interviews and study their mannerisms.

"We weren't asking them for their opinions, we were asking them to represent the candidates," Austin said.

"Between class and our own time, we probably put at least 15 hours of work in," said Andrew Fleck, who portrayed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

Unlike the actual debates, the third-party candidate had a place on stage.

"Andrew's a big Johnson fan and he kinda came forward and said maybe we should have him up there," Austin said. "We've gone over the last three debates on TV and no one has heard of him because he hasn't had the stats/numbers to be up there.

"It's a crazy election and I think more so than ever people are looking at possibly going with a third party candidate because of their displeasure, dislike, distrust of the other two candidates."

Green Party candidate Jill Stein, portrayed by senior Dylan Fletcher, was given three minutes at the start of the debate to explain why she was running for president and what she hoped to accomplish.

"We wish we could have accommodated her in a larger capacity, but it would take time away from the other three candidates, which we were already pressed for," Ashby said.

The debate included candidates polling more than 3 percent.

Even though the students played the role of candidates they politically identified with, not all said they would vote for the candidate they portrayed.

"I agree with Hillary's ideas, but I wouldn't necessarily vote for her," Pugliese said.

The debate was broadcast on HS Cube Network and generated 307 views.

Dylan Rossiter is a Maple Hill High School student who participates in the New Visions program at the Times Union.