Taryn Martin is always on the lookout for innovative ways to teach her eighth-grade language arts students how to write better.
While looking for a professional development project, she came across a program that she believed would enable her children - about 100 Aberdeen Middle School students - to express their opinions about issues they believe are central to their future, she said.
"It was perfect because we were already doing a lesson on persuasive writing," she said. "This project gave them a chance to have their voices heard, even though they are too young to vote."
The students participated in a national online writing and publishing project called Letter to the Next President: Writing Our Future. To participate, students ages 13 to 18 write letters to the next president that outline problems they believe are central to their future and that they want the president to address.
"I think our middle school students have more insight than adults give them credit for," Martin said. "They had some emotional reactions to the problems. It was really hard to read some of the letters."
Before they began writing, the students brainstormed and came up with about 20 different problems, she said. The top problems were gas prices, war, child abuse, crime, racism and the environment, she said.
Then Martin asked them to write six-paragraph essays in which they told the next president the problem they were most concerned about, she said.
Jayson Coleman-Harlee wrote about the war in Iraq because his mother serves in the military, he said.
"There are people dying there every day," said Jayson, 13, of Aberdeen, who said he would vote for Barack Obama. "I would really miss my mom if she had to go to Iraq. I want the troops to come home before she has to go."
Courtney Lester is most concerned about child abuse, she said.
"I wanted to tell the next president that he needs to do something about child abuse because a lot of people don't," said Courtney, 13, of Aberdeen, who said she would vote for John McCain. "No child should have to go through bad things like being hurt by their parents, and he should make sure they don't."
Martin chose the writing project because it gave the kids a chance to have their work published, she said.
"The kids feel so much pride in having their letters published online for anyone to see," she said.