From the ballot box to the voting booth, École secondaire Neelin High School’s library looked exactly like an Elections Canada polling station on Friday.
Students acted as deputy returning officers and poll clerks for the mock election, joining 7,500 schools across Canada in the Student Vote initiative.
"I think it’s really important so that the kids actually understand what they will have to go through when they actually do vote for their first time," said Neelin teacher Kerri Malazdrewicz.
Fifteen-year-old Jordan Adamski was one of the first students to cast a ballot on Friday morning.
"I think it’s a good idea," he said. "The students are the ones that are actually learning about the election, they learn about all the parties and what they stand for, so obviously, they have just the same abilities in voting as adults would."
Adamski said he will "definitely" vote in elections when he turns 18.
"Just … knowing that you’ve been given the opportunity to choose the leader of your country, that’s an important thing."
Steven Harp, 16, said the Student Vote initiative is important because "it involves us in the voting community and makes us feel like we matter.It keeps kids intrigued in politics, which I think is important considering Canada’s voting history."
The federal election has been a major topic of discussion at Neelin throughout the campaign, with many students joining the conversation, Malazdrewicz said.
"I’m noticing especially the Grade 9s, who I didn’t think would buy in as much as maybe my Grade 11s who are a bit older and close enough to voting. My Grade 9s have just taken it and run with it," she said.
"Some of them were the first ones to vote this morning, they were so excited to cast their ballot and do their due diligence for their country."
Principal Michael Adamski said it is important for the school to prepare students for the democratic process.
"I know the positive chatter that’s been around the school, and kids are following the polling results," he said. "I think that’s a sign kids are taking it seriously, and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about."
Neelin was the only Brandon high school to take part in the Student Vote program.
Ballots are counted by each school and reported to CIVIX, a non-partisan, national registered charity that builds skills and habits of citizenship among young Canadians. Results will be announced on election night.
CIVIX has partnered with Elections Canada to provide the Student Vote program free to schools during the 2015 federal election.
"The purpose is to provide young Canadians with an opportunity to experience the voting process first-hand and build the habits of informed and engaged citizenship," states the program’s website.
Since 2003, 26 Student Vote programs have been conducted across Canada. In the last federal election, 563,000 students cast ballots from 3,750 schools.
"Voter turnout in Canada has been declining for decades at all levels … particularly among young people," according to studentvote.ca. "By practising the habits of informed and engaged citizenship at an early age, students will be more inclined and prepared to participate in our democracy when they graduate high school."