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School uniforms . . . no driver's license without a high school diploma . . . a Constitutional Convention for New York State . . .

These were the hot issues all week as students from more than 65 local schools vied for a place on public television Oct. 24 when 36 local students, on 12 teams of three each, will debate the issues in the state's first-ever "KIDSVENTION," a live forum on Channel 23.

Their 9 to 11 a.m. presentation -- a collaboration between Kids Voting New York and Western New York Public Broadcasting -- will be repeated from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 27 on Channel 23.

"We had 65-plus teams try out for this first-ever KIDSVENTION, all seventh through 12th graders," said Anne Leary, executive director of Kids Voting New York.

"They came in extremely well prepared. They did a lot of their research on the Internet. Even the seventh and eighth graders were very composed and able to answer the questions the judges posed."

The runoffs were held Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at Western New York Public Broadcasting on Horizons Plaza. The last of the 12 final teams was chosen Thursday evening.

Thousands of Western New York elementary and high school students will vote on the same issues as their parents on Election Day as part of Kids Voting New York.

The voter education program, now in its second year, is non-partisan and not-for-profit, with a mission of energizing current and future voters, said Mrs. Leary.

As last year, local students in participating schools will vote in their own election at their parents' polling places. They will also vote on school uniforms, driver's license requirements and the proposal for a New York State Constitutional Convention.

"We wanted them to be able to vote on some issues that were their own issues," Mrs. Leary said.

Kids Voting New York, an arm of Kids Voting USA, was begun here last year by The Buffalo News -- with about 100,000 students from 14 school districts in Erie and Niagara counties participating, and 7,000 volunteers.

This year, 180,000 elementary and high school students from more than 30 school districts in Erie and Niagara counties are taking part, and the project is seeking 15,000 volunteers to help students vote with their parents at official polling places on Election Day.

"Western New York has embraced this project wholeheartedly," said Mrs. Leary. "The schools are extremely enthusiastic and are readying themselves to vote. Some have even written songs."

Kids Voting New York has had thousands of local calls from volunteers -- "everything from sororities to high school groups to veterans and senior citizens," Mrs. Leary noted.

"This is a project that has crossed generational, ethnic and geographic boundaries."

Still needed are volunteers in the Buffalo, Lackawanna, Cheektowaga, Kenmore and Niagara County, she added.

If you would like to help at an area polling place on Election Day, call the Kids Voting New York volunteer hot line at 849-4048.

Sponsors of Kids Voting New York, besides The News, include Armor Box, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, Cellular One, Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Erie County Legislature, M&T Bank, Buffalo Newspress, Bell Atlantic, Tops Friendly Markets and the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation.

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