CHS leads statewide effort to get students engaged in politics

CHS leads statewide effort to get students engaged in politics

Cumberland High School seniors involved in establishing the first student Democrat and Republicans clubs in town include, from left, Matthew Smith, CHS Democrats member; Julie Fougere, CHS Democrats president; Jake Fitzgerald, director of communications for the state's student Democratic party; Paul Resendes, CHS Republicans vice president; and Sam Ackerman, president of the state's student Democratic party. (VALLEY BREEZE PHOTO BY MEGHAN KAVANAUGH)

CUMBERLAND - Though not yet able to vote themselves, a group of Cumberland High School students is organizing a movement in town and around the state to get more teens familiar with politics and eager to become a part of the process.

Led by senior Sam Ackerman, who interned with the Democratic Party this summer and currently works as a Senate page, the CHS Democrats and Republicans have established themselves at the school with plans to raise the student body's political awareness.

"Our main motive is to promote voter registration in high school," Ackerman said, explaining that many are not aware they can register when they turn 16.

A voter registration drive is currently in the works, he said.

There are currently 15 to 20 CHS Democrats and about eight CHS Republicans, with both sides expecting growth.

The two groups have not yet met to talk shop, but have worked together for the school's Turkey Basket canned good donation drive, and they plan to soon host the school's first political policy forum discussion.

The clubs are less about going head-to-head in political debates for winning's sake, students said, and more about presenting two sides to an issue to allow other students to make their own decisions, and "to become more enlightened in the world of politics," senior CHS Democrats member Matthew Smith said.

Senior Julie Fougere, who was elected president of CHS Democrats, admitted that she does not have a detailed understanding of every issue. Discussions and the presence of political clubs should allow students, like her, to help each other figure out where they stand.

"They're going to get to know different sides," she said. "I think a lot of students in our school could use some political views in their lives."

Issues that already spark the most debate among students include gun control and social issues, they said.

But, as senior and CHS Democrats member Jake Fitzgerald pointed out, it is important for students to understand the economic and financial issues as well. After all, many will be paying taxes and dealing with student loans within the year.

"It's more about getting kids aware," Ackerman said, and engaging future members of the 18-29 age demographic. "We're trying to promote better citizenry."

As president of the statewide movement, Ackerman started the process in July, drafting a charter for these student organizations, and going around to different schools to find those interested in forming their own groups.

Cumberland is currently joined by East Providence High School and Barrington High School in having active clubs. Lincoln High School and Mount St. Charles Academy join a handful of schools that are still in the planning stages.

Fitzgerald works as the statewide director of communications.

"I'm truly trying to make it traverse the whole state," Ackerman said.

Fougere leads the CHS club along with sophomore Matt Delva, who was elected vice president. The Cumberland director of communication is senior Sarah King.

For the CHS Republicans, senior Nate Kane is president, and senior Paul Resendes is vice president.

CHS Republicans plan to become affiliated with the New England Federation of Teenage Republicans, Resendes said.

While it is no surprise that the Republican group is outnumbered at the school, Resendes said just having a solid presence in the school is a step toward better political understanding.

"Having both of these organizations within the school promotes a little bipartisanship," he said.

Ackerman agreed.

"It's about seeing all perspectives," he said.

Stay up-to-date on the CHS political scene by following @DemocratsofCHS and @RepublicansCHS on Twitter. Email Ackerman at for more information about the statewide effort.