BRADENTON -- The likes of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton all faced off in a heated debate inside a Manatee High School classroom Monday, the day before Florida's presidential primary.
Students in Jeff Hernden and Sarah Boler's government classes took on the persona of each of the five major candidates and researched their positions on immigration, climate change, the economy, health care, foreign policy and social issues and engaged in a mock debate. The students weren't necessarily representing a candidate they supported, but they had to try and argue the candidate's position convincingly and thoroughly. Hernden acted as a moderator, while Boler stepped in to help the Clinton group; school board member Charlie Kennedy dropped by and aided the Sanders group.
For most of the seniors, the primary will be their first chance to cast a ballot. And their class exercise Monday proved to be more than just an assignment.
"It's really eye-opening," said Ana Beltran, who was assigned to represent Trump.
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Amelia Bennett and Julia Tully, both assigned to represent Rubio, dressed up for their parts on Monday. They spent the weekend researching Rubio's positions.
"We split the work amongst us and we powered through," Tully said.
Allison Callis, who was assigned in the Trump group, said she watched some of the previous debates to nail down Trump's mannerisms and to see how he answered questions.
"This was a fantastic idea," she said.
Bennett also researched the other candidates' positions, and she was able to challenge and question some of the other groups, including asking Kennedy, acting as Sanders, how he would finance having free college available to everyone in the country.
"It's an ambitious plan," Kennedy said, acting as Sanders.
Gavyn Reynolds, who was assigned to Clinton, said it forced him to look beyond what the candidates say they'll do and to look at their backgrounds and history.
"We have to assume what they're saying is true, but we also have to know the background and research," he said.
"You have to look at the details," Bennett added.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.