For 38 students of Roosevelt Middle School of Science, Technology and Mathematics in West Palm Beach, attending the second inauguration of President Barack Obama was the icing on the cake. Their journey into the world of politics started one year ago but they sound as if they’ve been talking and watching politics for a lifetime.
The students began a year-long social studies and civics lesson that included a mock election on Nov. 1 last year, using precincts and student IDs.
Equipped with iPads, the Roosevelt students were able to get the results in about a half hour. Obama won by a landslide.
“I voted for Obama because he’s for lowering taxes,” said Justin Peith, 11, a sixth-grader who went on the trip to Washington.
For James Cook, 14, an eighth-grader, it was about giving Obama a chance to finish what he started “because of all that [then President George W.] Bush had done. He deserved a second chance.”
The pretend voting heightened interest in the inauguration and the students planned to make the trip regardless of who won the actual election.
Their real-life lesson in civics ended with their visit to the capital and attendance at the public inauguration ceremony on Jan. 21, the day the nation celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.
“Studying history in the textbooks is one thing but seeing it in action is another,” Roosevelt Middle Principal Jo Anne Rogers said. “Our kids knew why they were there and they were able to feel it. Not only being there for the significance of the events but [also] on King’s birthday was extra special.”
For James, the experience in Washington transcended race. “Some people think it was about being black but it was more than that. There were Spanish people and Asians, all people coming together,” he said.
T’Keyah Dennard, 14, an eighth grader, said Obama’s speeches sound better in person than on TV. Keirston Reed, 11, a sixth-grader, said she liked the Inaugural Ball the best – the Inaugural Kid’s Ball, that is, a scheduled stop on their tour when they got to dress up in their finest clothes and dance the afternoon away.
“We mostly danced the whole time,” said Keirston. On the menu at the ball: chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and candy.
Jeremiah O’Neal, also 11, said he liked “everything” about the trip. It was his first airplane ride and though he admitted it was sort of scary at first, it was also “awesome” once he settled into the flight.
“The students really, really enjoyed it,” said Deidra Moreland, a math resource teacher, who spent much of her personal time helping to organize the trip. “It’s so important when you build up a lesson and culminate it with a lifetime experience in person.”
Rogers said the outing was based not on who won the election but on social studies and civics lessons that started in January 2012.
“We started early enough to align their studies with the election of a president,” said Rogers, an educator who improved Lincoln Elementary School in Riviera Beach from an “F” grade on the FCAT to an “A.”
Rogers has been principal of Roosevelt Middle for two years. Moreland describes her as “hands on,” as evidenced by the lessons that culminated in the inauguration visit.
“As educators and parents, we know that the process of educating our students many times extend beyond the classrooms walls. Attending the presidential inauguration celebration is an example of that,” Rogers said.
The trip cost $750 per student, some of the money coming from fundraisers. Rogers is commending parents for seeing the importance of the trip for their children and for making it possible for them.
“They may not have been able to go, but they wanted their children to have this experience,” Moreland added.