We were finishing up literacy centers when the announcement came over the loudspeakers. "Teachers, the inauguration will begin on CNN. Turn to channel XX on your classroom TVs if you plan to watch." I quickly tried to wrap up my guided reading group, have the rest of the class clean up from their centers, and get everyone quiet enough to move on. As they were cleaning up, I went to my computer to start the CNN streaming of the inauguration. I had hoped to watch it on the big screen - projected onto my interactive whiteboard. That didn't work, but the television did.
The students had been excited for this all morning. Another teacher at our school had traveled to DC to experience the inauguration in person, so we knew to be on the lookout for the teacher among the millions in attendance.
I finally turned on the TV and Obama, President Obama was in the middle of his speech. The kids watched intently for quite a while. As they were watching, I explained Obama's speech them them in kid-friendly language.
"Now he's talking about how people of different religions need to learn to work together. Like when we were studying Diwali and Christmas and Hanukkah and Las Posadas - everyone celebrates different holidays but they can still work together and live together."
"Now he's talking about how he thinks people should fight with words instead of with wars. He thinks we should find ways to talk about our problems instead of fighting because too many people have been getting hurt."
"Now he's talking about how we need to not be wasteful. Like when we leave the room we should turn off the light. And when we are going places nearby, we should walk instead of drive because driving takes a lot of gas and that is wasteful. Or like, we need to recycle so that we aren't cutting down so many trees."
I grossly oversimplified everything, but the kids were really interested in just watching the screen, seeing it flash from Obama ("Look! Obama!!) to any old white man ("Look! John McCain!") to the swarms of people watching in DC.
After about 15-20 minutes, some of them were beginning to loose interest and get antsy, so I decided to leave the TV on, but start the next activity which was to just write letters to Obama. They could ask him questions, tell him how they felt about the fact that he was becoming president, tell him things about them or their family - anything they wanted to really. I just wanted them to make a connection between Obama and their current realities.
They were really focused on both writing their letters and occasionally gazing up at the TV screen. When the national anthem was sung toward the end, one girl spontaneously stood up and put her right hand over her heart. Others followed and joined in the song.
Their letters were adorable and sweet. In her letter, one girl explained that she and her family wanted Obama to be president because he is a "good learner" and he "make[s] the city better every day."
Another explained that he "Vote[d] for [Obama] because [Obama] didn't want a war to happen."
A lot of them told Obama that he was "cool" and "smart" or they asked him if he was happy to be president ("circle yes or no").
I don't know what they will remember of this momentous occasion 20 years from now. I know that I remember nothing of the elections that took place when I was in kindergarten, and very little about those that happened when I was in 3rd grade. So, in all likelihood, they will remember nothing. But at least they experienced it. They were involved and they participated in the whole process - from discussing the candidates and their issues before the elections all the way through the inauguration of President Barack Obama.