Kids take Educational Field Trip, Learn How to Be Political Props

Let’s say you sent your sixth-grader off on an educational field trip for the day. But then when you turned on the evening news, you saw your kid was actually at a political rally holding a sign for TV cameras?

Would you be happy that your child had witnessed the part of political process – or angry that he or she had been used as a campaign prop?

This morning Cindy McCain, wife of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, appeared at a rally at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, along with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

In the crowd of several hundred were two out-of town school groups that happened to be visiting the center on field trips that day. The McCain campaign invited them to attend the rally, gave them McCain-Palin signs and positioned the kids near the stage.

A group of mostly African-American sixth graders from St. Helena’s Elementary School, a Catholic school in the Bronx, NY were put behind the podium, in direct view of television cameras. The other group -- students from Highland Regional High School, a public school in Blackwood, NJ -- were situated on the side of the stage.

St. Helena’s teacher Frank Ivrilli said he approved letting his kids attend the rally.

“Being that Giuliani was from New York, it seemed like a good opportunity,” he said. “This is an example of democracy in front of their eyes.”

Asked if he though it was appropriate for young children to be given signs, he said none of the kids had to hold them if they didn’t want to.

“One of the kids said, ‘I’m supporting Obama’ and I said ‘Do you want a sign’ and he said yes,” Ivrilli said.

Colby Winfield, a history teacher from Highland High School, said some of the students chose not to hold signs, but he thought the event was a good chance to see the political process up close.

“Nobody objected to it, they wanted to see who Cindy McCain was,” he said.

We asked a press aide for the McCain campaign and a Republican National Committee spokeswoman if they thought corralling the kids and giving them campaign signs was appropriate. We still haven’t gotten an answer.

Ashley Berke, a spokeswoman for the Constitution Center, said the campaign directly invited the students. She said some school groups turned down the offer.

Another local school group was in the crowd, from Cornerstone High School, a Messianic Jewish school in Havertown, Pa. The students from government and civics classes had received parental permission, said their teacher Jeff Belford, a McCain volunteer.