Eighth-grade students at North Kirkwood Middle School began an extended social studies class today, Inauguration Day, with a bit of political therapy. Teachers had them write down everything negative about the 2016 presidential campaign and election. There was no sharing, though peeks over shoulders gleaned key words like emails and racism.
Then the tearing began.
The roughly 75 students from three different classes ripped up their papers and tossed them — and the negativity — away.
The exercise was an attempt by teachers Mark Decker, Ruth Baldwin, Tricia Owens and Christina Nicoletti to instill lessons of unity following a rancorous election season.
These students are too young to remember the first election of now former President Barack Obama, and still too young to have voted for his replacement. But the administration of President Donald Trump will be the one that shapes their civic engagement. Some students described the campaign as full of hostility.
"There was so much controversy, it was almost hard to watch at times," said Elizabeth Button.
But some said they’re hopeful Trump will live up to his word and make the country better. Many, like Lily Bartin, are willing to wipe the slate clean. "Whether or not you agree or don’t agree with who got chosen to be the president, we all live in this country, so we’re all rooting for the best," she told her classmates.
The civics lesson focused on increasing unity among those with different opinions, which for Xander Piskulic, "means everybody is trying to help each other and trying to reach a long-term goal in the best way that they can."
Before turning on the live feed of the ceremony and listening to the oaths taken by Vice President Mike Pence and then President Donald Trump, the teachers screened some videos about the history of the inauguration, the importance of voting and the division the election sowed among school-aged kids.
"You see the larger debate among adults reflected in the kids," said Decker, who wore a tie with the words of the preamble to the Constitution printed on it for the occasion. "You hear the kids repeating those."
The kids, with different levels of interest and attention, then watched Trump be sworn in. Robert Owen Cross liked what he heard. "I really thought that he said some really powerful things," he said afterward.
Winter White-Banks says she’s had a tough time explaining the 2016 election cycle to her younger siblings.
"They don’t understand why me, my mom, my dad stressed over this so much every day," she said. "And so I just want to explain to them why we are the way that we are and why we say the things that we say."
White-Banks said she expects Trump to live up to the promises he made in his address.
"I'm hoping, as president, because he has that power, he does everything in his power that he can to help us," she said.
From St. Louis to Washington, D.C.
Seventy-five high school students from the Parkway School District traveled to Washington, D.C. to witness the inauguration in person. They were all clad in identical neon-lime colored jackets for the ceremony to make sure they wouldn't get lost or separated.
Parkway South Senior Thomas Godsil said the mood on the National Mall during the swearing-in ceremony was very patriotic.
“You’ve seen flags of Trump supporters. You’ve seen different T-shirts. You’ve really seen how people are really expressing their constitutional right to speak up or against the president. You’ve seen a lot of unity,” Godsil said. “It was very exciting to even be there.”
“I’m seeing my voice being heard. It’s not one of those instances where I am just throwing something out there and not being listened to. I got to see my opinion in action from Nov. 8 when we went into Election Day to today,” said Godsil, who cast his first ever presidential ballot for Donald Trump.
Freshman Asad Siddiqui was a little nervous about how Trump’s supporters might receive him because he’s Muslim.
“But luckily everyone was very peaceful and I got in with extra security tags, and I had nothing to worry about,” said Siddiqui.
Both Siddiqui and Godsil said they liked what Trump said in his inaugural speech.
For Siduiqui, the idea of putting America first stood out.
“We do have issues of poverty and that kind of stuff so we should help our country,” said Siddiqui.
Godsil felt like the speech promoted unity. Asked whether he thinks that sense of unity can last, given that many people are in D.C. for protests, Godsil said he hopes it will.
“Part of me wants to think it’s the inauguration that’s bringing it. But part of me wants to think it’s this new renewed sense that we’re going to be building up the country again,” Godsil said.
The Parkway students took a bus to Washington Tuesday night. They spent Wednesday and Thursday visiting the Capitol, Arlington National Cemetery, the national monuments, the International Spy Museum and the Smithsonian.
Siddiqui said he was impressed by the variety of the people touring the sights.
"No matter what monument or museum you go to, there's a very diverse group of people. It's not just Caucasion or African-American. There are Chinese and Indians and all these people who are interested in the U.S. government."
Parkway also sent students to D.C. for both of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations.
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This report was prepared, in part, with help from our Public Insight Network. Click here to learn more or join our conversation.