NEW BETHLEHEM – With the election coming up, seniors at Redbank Valley High School are recalling the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Four years ago, Redbank teacher Dr. Joe Harmon was presented with the opportunity to have his civics classes filmed by ABC’s “Nightline” about students’ perspectives on the election and how teachers were teaching about the election. However, the ABC news coverage and the events that followed would be described as “shocking” by many people in our community.
The weeks leading up to the interview were filled with excitement. The students were looking forward to being featured on such a prestigious network. When the long-awaited day arrived, the morning passed by in a flurry. Not wanting to make a bad impression on national TV, students got up earlier than usual to pick out appropriate outfits.
When asked about how he felt during the interview, Harmon said, “It was a little nerve-racking to think what I say is going to be on national news and scrutinized by a million people potentially.”
His feelings of slight anxiety were shared by the whole school.
Blane Gold, another government teacher at Redbank, was in charge of the mock election that day.
Gold stated, “It was exciting for us as a district to be portrayed in the national spotlight. With the majority of our student body being Trump supporters, I was curious to see how a liberal news outlet would portray us.”
On the big day, the school was abuzz. The hallways were lined with political ads and posters. The senior government students had made ads campaigning for candidates. Many of the older students were wearing Trump and MAGA merchandise. RVTV Live, the broadcast journalism class and news program, made slides that welcomed the news crew.
ABC’s Terry Moran and his news crew observed three eighth grade civics classes. Moran watched the students play the iCivics game “Win the Whitehouse,” watch political ads, and discuss the upcoming election. He asked each class different questions about gun control, job loss, and how the eighth-graders felt about the election. There was no question that the classes were in support of Trump. Eighth grade student Brooke Smith was quoted saying, “This whole class is Trump.”
After witnessing the eighth grade classes, the news crew made their way down to the auditorium for the mock election. In order to be as authentic as possible, Gold explained to the students that they were not allowed to wear political shirts or merchandise in support of any one candidate in the election, and he even made students turn their political shirts inside out. One at a time, the students were led up to the stage where, with the help of New Bethlehem Borough election officials, students in grades 7-12 cast their votes. With no surprise to anyone, the mock election concluded with Trump winning with 340 votes compared to Clinton’s 48.
ABC News concluded interviews with additional students at the end of the day and then said their goodbyes. As they left, students smiled as they anticipated being able to see themselves on the news.
However, when the “Nightline” news story was released, many students were left in confusion when their faces were not shown. As Harmon put it, “I thought it was interesting how they spent the entire day here and interviewed countless students, yet it all boiled down to a five minute or so segment. It was interesting to see what they chose to air and not air. For instance, I spent an entire class showing an iCivics game, but that only made a few seconds of the overall video. They seemed to show the clips and interviews they thought would generate the most buzz.”
One major component of the segment was student Brooke Smith, who when asked about the division in the country between the Democrats and the Republicans, made bold statements such as, “Split the country into two different countries.” ABC News selected to use this unexpected comment from a 13-year-old teenager, which then caused a stir on social media, erupting into anonymous threats, insults and attacks specifically on students, Harmon, Redbank Valley School District, and the community.
ABC News has now, four years later, decided to return to Redbank Valley High School due to the upcoming election, which includes President Trump again.
Over the next several weeks in The Leader-Vindicator, four journalism seniors at Redbank Valley — Josey Adams, Clara Gourley, Alaina Hook and Ty Sherry — will write a series of articles sharing how the 2016 election and the ABC “Nightline” coverage affected them. These journalism students are also eager to cover ABC’s return to Redbank Valley High School this Thursday, Oct. 15, for follow-up coverage.