By Pat Loeb

By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia’s mayoral candidates met with third and fourth graders from four public schools this week.

The event was designed by the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement as an educational experience for the students, but it turned out to be at least as educational for the candidates, providing a sobering glimpse of the students’ daily reality in a cash-strapped school system.

The students performed original plays for the candidates, before asking them questions.

Students from Isaac Sheppard portrayed a schoolyard discussion.

“I remember my mom telling me when she went to school, they actually had art and music classes,” said one character.

“And my aunt told me they had time for recess ever day,” chimed in another.

“What?” asks a third skeptically. “No way. Where did she go to schools, Mars?”

But if it was painful to hear students talk about basics as unattainable dreams, the students from Julia Howe ventured into heartbreak territory.

In their play, kids are given the power to vote and they discuss how they’ll evaluate candidates.

“Crime in the city is a major issue,” says one student. “It affects me because sometimes I don’t feel safe, especially when I walk by myself. I’m a child and it makes me scared so I would ask the candidates if they would try to reduce crime in Philadelphia.”

“I think the same thing,” says her friend. “I had a family member hurt by a gun. I think the next mayor should ban guns in the city. Guns hurt too many people. It makes me sad.”

Democrat Jim Kenney and Republican Melissa Murray Bailey mostly took a can-do attitude during the Question-and-answer sessions following the plays– promising to fight for a fair school funding formula and to create more jobs to reduce crime and offer better futures.

But the Howe kids’ request to get rid of guns prompted a different tone from Kenney.

“Let me give you a very cold and cruel fact of life and I hate to do this but I have to do it,” he said. “We can’t control guns in Philadelphia because Harrisburg refuse to control guns in Pennsylvania. There’s an organization called the NRA and they spend a lot of money to get people elected who protect their right to proliferate guns in our community. And the reason they do it is purely, simply greed. They make money out of selling guns.”

Bailey, too, acknowledged that as much as she enjoyed the plays, “It’s sad at the same time.”

“I wish everyone who has the ability to vote could hear from you directly,” she said.