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U. City's Gabe Fleisher Continues To 'Wake Up To Politics'

A lot has happened to 12-year-old Gabe Fleisher in the last year and a half. He’s garnered local and national press attention and recently got to meet one of his favorite historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin.

His teeth now sport a set of braces with red, white and blue anchors.

It's all part of a day in the life of Gabe Fleisher, political junkie.

In 2012, he was a regular blogger on the Beyond November website, a cooperative effort by St. Louis Public Radio, the St. Louis Beacon and the Nine Network of Public Media to cover the elections.

Gabe’s moniker: “the pint-size pundit.”

He’s now ditched that nickname, as his side job as a publisher has taken off. 

Thanks to encouragement from his mother, Gabe is the editor-in-chief – and sole staff member – of a daily emailed newsletter, “Wake Up to Politics.

He currently has a circulation that’s closing in on 600. Subscribers include the White House.

Jamie Jordan, the principal at Brittany Woods Middle School in University City, helped arrange Gabe’s 6th grade class schedule so that his first period is in the library. That gives him a chance to finish assembling his publication and send it out before he has to lock up his laptop in the library office and head off to his first academic class: Spanish.

Credit (Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio and The Beacon)
Gabe Fleisher takes his enthusiasm for politics all the way to his braces.

Gabe begins each day at 6 a.m. After making his lunch, and before catching his bus, he scans his favorite sites on the internet – the Washington Post, Politico and Whitehouse.gov – to zero in on the hot political topics of the day.

At home, and later at the school library, he will write up a brief summary of the national story of the day – a recent topic was the re-launch of Healthcare.gov, the federal site to sign up for health insurance.  Gabe adds the public schedule for the president and often offers up a political trivia question.

With a press of his "send" button, the missive then is fired off to readers.

“He’s so focused, I kind of forget that he’s in here sometimes,” said school librarian Kelly Werthmuller. 

Werthmuller also has been one of Gabe’s subscribers for years. “It’s amazing,’’ she said with a chuckle. “During the presidential election, that’s where I got most of my information – from a fourth-grader.”

"I love the fact that he has a passion and he ran with it." - Librarian Kelly Werthmuller

She adds that she’s also in awe. “I love the fact that he has a passion and he ran with it.”

Jordan, the school principal, calls Gabe “a student that comes along once in a lifetime…What I would like to do is make sure I can do everything I can to facilitate his growth because he’s going to go places that most kids can’t even imagine.”

But Jordan also hopes to use Gabe to inspire his classmates. “I would love to see more of this building-wide,’’ she said. “What Gabe’s doing is what we should be emulating for all of our students.”

Werthmuller and Jordan also hope that Gabe’s sideline will encourage other students to pay attention to politics and public affairs – or, at minimum, see him as an example.

“It’s good for all of our kids to see how widespread Gabe’s voice can be,’’ said Werthmuller. “It helps other students follow their passions, in a way.”

Gabe isn’t just unusual at his middle school. He also stands apart nationally. Poll after poll have shown that students and young adults tend to ignore politics and government or quickly become disillusioned.

For example: A recent survey conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that the “millennials’’ – those aged 18-29 – were cooling on President Barack Obama, their overwhelming choice in 2008 and 2012. But the poll's participants also weren’t keen on any other major political figures or either major party.

Gabe, who traveled to Washington with his family to watch Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, understands that many young people – much less, fellow 12 year olds – aren’t as engaged in public policy as he is.

Gabe understands why many young people tune out, blaming the bipartisan discord that fills the airwaves each day from Washington.

Still, he’s optimistic that the young will re-engage. “We’re the next generation that’s going to be affected by the laws that are passed now,’’ he said.  And he sees some hope among his friends. “They listen passionately when I try to talk to them.” 

Credit (Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio and The Beacon)
Fellow 6th graders Nathan Hill (left) and Eliot Fuller.

But that doesn’t mean they share Gabe’s interests to the same degree.  “It’s pretty cool that he knows so much about politics, for being 12,” said close friend Eliot Fuller, a fellow 6th grader. Eliot adds, though, that politics is “not something I’m really interested in.”

Friend Nathan Hill is a bit more blunt.  “It’s kind of strange,” Nathan said, referring to Gabe’s embrace of politics. But Nathan tolerates it because, he added with a smile, Gabe “doesn’t obsess over it.”

Gabe sits on the Brittany Woods student council and he also plays soccer and frequently joins his friends at their favorite ice-cream hangout.

But it’s clear that his newsletter is his passion. He even loves the comments and corrections he receives from readers.

“I really love the dialogue,’’ he said. Of the corrections, Gabe added with a chuckle, “A lot of times I have spelling mistakes.”

Gabe’s dream, at the moment, is to grow up to be a historian like Goodwin or a journalist.

But he prefers not to think too far ahead: “I’ll take one grade at a time.”

Discussion: St. Louis on the Air
St. Louis on the Air

Host Don Marsh talks with Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Deputy Director, Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, about a recently released report concerning youth engagement in politics.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.