PEPPERELL -- As voters trickled in to the polls earlier this month to place their ballots for the state primaries, off to the far left corner of the room, a different election was being held -- one with quite a bit more controversy and excitement among the voters.
Colorful jeans and sneakers peaked out beneath the bottoms of the curtains as students in the fourth-grade class at Varnum Brook Elementary School filed into polls, equipped with step stools, to decide on the shape for the 2013 town dog tags.
"They're so excited that is actually going to count for something," said Jeannette Mihill, fourth-grade teacher.
The idea came to Town Clerk Jeff Sauer from a clerk in another town, who did the same project recently. The only difference, said Sauer, was that he would provide the specific shapes to be voted on as opposed to having a write-in nomination; his clerk colleague had a difficult time finding the winning shape in his own town. The kids in Pepperell voted between a dog head, a dog house, a fire hydrant and a bell. The dog head beat dog house by 14 votes, but not before the entire grade cast their opinions.
"I just thought it was a terrific idea to engage the children," he said.
The thrilled children agreed, fidgeting as each waited in line to voice his or her opinion.
"It's pretty fun because we get to do it and no one else does," said fourth-grader Sean Hayward.
"I've never really been in a voting booth before," said James Livingston.
Beyond merely being a unique and exciting activity, Sauer hoped that the vote would help instill an important civics lesson in the mind of the children, especially as many of them watched their parents go through the process of campaigning and voting in the recent controversial Proposition 2 1/2 override election, which passed with a marginal 29-vote difference between the three towns. He hoped it would help the children realize that as voters, they had the power to impact the town -- a fundamental aspect of building a society.
"Getting involved in the community is what makes it a community," said Sauer.
The vote came after a week of campaigning; each child drew a poster for the shape that he or she wanted to win. Walls were lined with bright, magic marker images of dog heads and fire hydrants, each proclaiming "Vote!" in fire engine red, cobalt blue and every color in between.
Children has different perceptions on the importance of voting and campaigning; nevertheless, each had his or her own legitimate reason for doing so.
Fourth grader Devin Hasbrouck said it was crucial to campaign to "encourage people to vote for what you want to vote for."
Catherine Graham said it was an important piece in helping the townspeople make decisions and "so that the dogs can be safe."
Regardless of their individual reasoning, Sauer said he was pleased with their understanding of the concept.
"They get it, the idea that not only does every vote count, but the importance of campaigning as well," he said.