Several CPS students witnessed history this week, watching from the Washington D.C. Mall as President Barack Obama was inaugurated for the second time. Some were there simply as spectators, while others participated in various inaugural events and academic opportunities. But all found their trip to the nation's capital an exciting and memorable experience.
The King High School Band
More than 200 students from the music program at Martin Luther King, Jr. College Prep High School traveled to D.C. to participate in the President's Inaugural Heritage Music Festival, where they had the opportunity to perform with 60 other bands from around the country.
The D.C.-bound ensemble was comprised of music students from the school's concert, marching, and jazz bands, as well as the school choir. The performance opportunity was a repeat honor for this CPS school, which sent its musicians to Washington in 2009 to perform at several of the balls that marked the President's first inauguration.
"It was an honor and a blessing to be able to attend," said Ben Washington, band director at King. "And we got to be on the Mall for the swearing in, so that made it even more special."
Monday's swearing in was particularly significant for King students, as it honored the birthdate of their school's namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Kenwood Academy High School
Arianna Alexander, a sophomore at Hyde Park's Kenwood Academy, attended the inauguration as part of the High School Presidential Inaugural Conference – a five-day gathering that gives high-achieving students from across the country and around the world a deeper understanding of the history behind the electoral process and the rich traditions surrounding the Presidential inauguration.
"This conference provides students with an opportunity to take part in historic events that coincide with the Inauguration of the President of the United States," said Marguerite Regan, Dean of Academic Affairs for the Presidential Inaugural Conference. "Something that is really wonderful about so many young people gathering in Washington, D.C. for this event is that it provides them a chance to become more familiar with and attuned to the president who will govern the United States over the next four years. We certainly hope this will inspire the next generation of leaders."
Arianna was invited to be part of the conference based on her academic achievements and leadership skills, and was grateful for the chance to participate. "I was so surprised to be invited and so excited to get to go," she said. "It was a great experience."
From Saturday-Wednesday, Arianna participated in workshops and seminars with other students, interacting with historians, political experts and leading decision makers to discuss campaign strategy and presidential politics. She and her fellow scholars watched the swearing-in and parade at a special viewing party, and then attended an inauguration night gala hosted especially for them.
"I really wanted to see the first inauguration four years ago, so I was so glad to be able to see the President get sworn in this time," she said. "And I loved getting to tour D.C., because I'd never been there before."
Alcott College Prep
Jenny Vincent, a 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher at Alcott College Prep, had always wanted to take her students on a trip to D.C, so the inauguration presented her with the ideal opportunity. "We've been planning this for a year," she said, "And the preparation started long before the trip."
Vincent had engaged her students in the electoral process since last spring, teaching them about the Constitution and Cabinet, and creating a project in which they conducted a student voter registration drive and election that ran simultaneously with what was going on nationally.
"I wanted them to realize that going to the inauguration would make them part of history," she said. "So they needed to really understand what they were witnessing."
Thanks to help from 5th District Congressman Mike Quigley, Vincent and her 17 students had a prime spot from which to view the President's swearing in on Monday morning. Tuesday brought a meeting with Senator Dick Durbin, who had arranged for the Alcott students to stand on the official platform where President Obama took his oath of office, as well as meetings with U.S. Secretary of Education and former CPS School Superintendent Arne Duncan, and Dr. Clarence Jones, who wrote the famous "I Have a Dream" speech for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose memory had special significance during this year's inauguration ceremony.
"We had prepared for our conversations with these important officials, "said Vincent, "but still, the kids were like live wires. And as a news junky myself, I felt the same way."
Vincent said that the D.C. trip was an experience that she will never forget as a teacher, and hopes that her students feel the same way.