The No. 1 rule in the debate: nothing negative.
No booing, for instance, was allowed Tuesday afternoon at the Snack Debate of 2016 at Marissa Elementary School.
Three candidates, representing ice cream, candy and chips, gave stump speeches extolling the virtues of their treat to fellow students and guest Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton.
Before the debate, the 300-plus students learned about the election process.
The favorite snack field started with 10 varieties. A primary winnowed the candidates to three.
Fifth-grader Olivia Parker, 10, saw her favored candidate, popcorn, fail in the primary.
“I like chips (now); they’re yummy,” she said. Her preferred variety is the oven-baked original flavor.
Fifth-grader Rayna Reed, 11, voted on cookies for the primary, but now is backing ice cream.
“I really like ice cream,” she said. Her favorite flavor is mint chocolate chip. Rayna helped make one of the posters decorating the school gym; students also created signs to wave during the debate.
Costello gave perhaps the longest speech of the afternoon, clocking in at about two minutes. He urged students to “really respect what’s goin on here” in the election process. He also did a little campaigning of his own, asking his audience what schools and families need.
“If you’re doing papers, projects, research — reach out to me,” he said. “If families need help, reach out.
“And at the end of the day, respect what the majority chose.”
Costello did not express a snack food preference.
Teacher’s aide Tina Lanter said the idea for the debate came about because the children were so curious about the presidential debate.
“We wanted to show the process, and appropriate campaigning,” she said, adding that each candidate was free to praise the snack he or she represented, but not say anything negative about the others.
The young students are at least somewhat attuned to the presidential debate, said Principal Brent Whipple.
“One of the kids walked in and asked, ‘If this person comes into office, can I still be allowed to live in this country?’” Whipple said. “That pulled at the heartstrings. There is a lot of tension (for the students). We wanted to address that.”
Back at the school’s gym, Candidate Ice Cream had strong early support and seemed to hold the lead, judging by the cheers before and after the stump speeches.
In his short speech, Josh Leemon, sixth grade, talked about the ice cream’s history, flavors, variety and cone options. His personal favorite is vanilla with gummy bears and sprinkles, but he was quick to remind the crowd that there are hundreds of flavors from which to choose.
Ethan Sweeney advocated for candy. Kendra Krause spoke on behalf of chips.
Afterward, Ethan admitted that candy was not what he had voted for in the primary, but the sixth-grader was sticking by his candidate.
“Everything’s good. But candy’s what I got, and that’s what I supported,” he said.
Students in the second through sixth grades will vote on their favorite snack food; the Parents-Teachers Together organization will supply that snack at the Parent-Teacher Conferences on Oct. 25.
“If the snack chosen is not one you like to eat, you don’t have to eat it,” Lanter said after the speeches. “You do have to respect it.”