After plenty of giggles and 30 seconds or so of planning, an eighth-grader steps in front of the camera, clapping her arms together imitating the motion of the black-and-white clapper boards used on movie sets.
"This is what will happen if the American Party wins," Emma Roden says as the camera begins rolling. She acts out a scene of eating Popeye's chicken, wipes her mouth with a napkin and begins to exaggeratedly drop her books and fall over.
"Oh, my hands. They're so greasy," she says.
This is one of many campaign videos being produced by middle school students at Chattanooga Christian School, where students are enthusiastically campaigning in a mock election to teach about the Electoral College and mark the presidential election without delving into partisan politics.
Instead of running candidates, they're running ideas. At issue: group lunches at the nearby Popeye's, an afternoon field day, homework passes and a chance to watch a movie at school.
Each side of the ballot is balanced with community service tasks, including washing windows, picking up trash and weeding flowerbeds.
The project is organized around treats and service projects to help avoid a likely popularity contest if students were to run against each other.
But just like in the real thing, the campaign ads have gone negative.
Not long after Emma's video mocks the American Party, the other side shoots back. Their video pokes fun at the issue of watching a movie during school, which is on the National Party's side of the ballot.
About a dozen kids brainstorm to come up with annoying movies -- Justin Bieber, "Twilight" and "Marley and Me" are suggested. As the camera starts rolling, kids huddle in their desks, looking at the front of the room bemoaning the supposed film.
"Oh, this movie!" a boy exclaims.
"Why did we vote for this?" one girl says, as she makes a gagging hand gesture.
They're definitely having fun, but teacher Joel Johnson says they're also learning. The entire weeks-long project was designed to teach the complexities of this country's Electoral College.
"Not a lot of adults actually understand how it works," said Johnson, an eighth-grade history teacher who organized the project.
The 330 middle school students are grouped into states according to their first-period classes. Each class -- or state -- is awarded a certain number of delegates based on enrollment.
The whole concept of the Electoral College was a surprise to some students.
"I thought it was just a majority-rules vote for the real thing," said eighth-grader Aaron Anand.
Aaron said he's staunchly in support of the American Party because of its two group lunch excursions.
"I like Popeye's," he said. "You can watch a movie anytime. But you can't really go to Popeye's every day with your friends."
Nate Hyams has a different perspective.
He's not keen on the community service projects that come with the American ticket. Cleaning desks and scraping gum are deal breakers.
"I don't want to do that," he said.
The mock election has sparked interest in the real thing. Nate said he's even watched a few minutes of the presidential debates since the school project began.
Johnson said such political interest was a pleasant surprise. Though they're not specifically getting into presidential politics in class, many students are paying more attention to the race, he said.
"I think they're noticing the advertising, the people and the issues more since we started this," he said.
Some of the most passionate students gave speeches in favor of their party platforms at the school's political convention and argued their side in a debate. Teachers will release state-by-state election results on the CCS newspaper's website the night of the election, with the final tallies announced at school the next day. Former Congress hopeful and CCS graduate Weston Wamp will address students to wrap up the project.
And, just like in the real election, students will have to register before voting. They'll need a student ID to register and vote.
And if they don't register by Nov. 1, they don't vote.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...