For Newark Middle School sixth and eighth grade social studies teacher Lisa Eakins, the opportunity for students to see Donald Trump take the reins from former United States President Barack Obama was a chance of a lifetime.
But for seventh grade students Zack Mallette, Gabriella Taylor and Isaiah Dishaw, well, it was just plain “cool!”
“It was a once in a lifetime trip,” said 13-year-old Taylor. “We were overwhelmed by the feelings of being there.”
For these students, it wasn’t about who won the election or where they stood on the issues, it was a chance to witness a moment in history. All three youth admitted to not following the election campaign. Completely oblivious to the turmoil this most recent national election brought, students were thrilled to watch in wonder as the motorcade and the then President elect Trump’s vehicle as it passed by them only feet away. The students spoke of their visits to Ford’s Theater and the Peterson House, among other historic places.
Mallette recalled the throng of people trying to get to the best spot in time for the swearing in.
“What I remember most is people were grabbing at my ankles to get in front of the line and to keep their place,” the 12-year-old said.
Since 1997, Eakins not only helped organize but attended four presidential inaugurations with groups of seventh and eighth grade students.
Eakins, who also is the NMS social studies supervisor, spearheaded the first NMS student trip to Washington, D.C. two decades ago, and watched with students and staff chaperones as Bill Clinton was sworn into office President of the United States for a second term in 1997.
She attended the first inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001; the second inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2013; and most recently, watched alongside 46 NMS students on the National Mall as Donald J.Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on January 20th.
This most recent trip was the sixth consecutive inaugural trip NMS students have attended.
“We can talk about a Presidential Inauguration in a social studies classroom, but to witness it in person, to be part of the energy in the crowd, that’s what makes this trip unique,” Eakins said.
The NMS contingent – who had a great view of the proceedings as they stood near one of the jumbotron large screen televisions at a mid-way point on the National Mall – included NMS teachers Matt Klemann, who teaches 7th and 8th grade social studies and served as the trip’s co-advisor with Eakins as he did in 2013. Klemann was the advisor of the trip to Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
The four other teachers who served as chaperones on the trip included: 7th grade math teacher Scott Briggs; 6 th grade math teacher Jason Dentel; 7th grade English teacher Danielle Ohlsen; and 7 th grade social studies teacher Christine Jacobs.
“There is no better classroom for our kids on Inauguration Day than the National Mall in Washington, D.C. To be a living part of history in the making and getting to experience a major part of our political process in action!,” Klemann said. “All of the chaperones were honored and happy to be able to provide this opportunity for our kids. The kids were awesome on the trip and we were extremely impressed with how engaged they were in learning as much as they could from each of our destinations. We couldn’t be more proud of how well they represented their families, community, and Newark Middle School.”
Besides attending and enjoying the inaugural swearing-in ceremony, the trip also included:
Touring the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Ford’s Theater
Visited the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument
Touring the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center National Air and Space Museum
A dinner cruise and mock inaugural ball aboard the Spirit of Washington on the Potomac River
Students attending the trip, and their grade levels, included: Arika Blaisdell (8), Alexandra Briggs (8), Jaston Brooks (8), Stevie Brown (7), Kalyna Bryant (8), Faith Clerveau (7), Jack Comella (8), James Crawford (7), Chariah Cunningham (7), Isaiah Dishaw (7), Allison Exton (7), Zoe Fisher (7), Benjamin Fisher (7), Jace Fredericksen (7), Rachel George (8), Jenna Havert (7), Michael Hermenet (8), Tyler Horton (7), Trent Horton (7), Meghan Johnson (8), Amber Johnson (7), Madison Jorgensen (7), Emma Kuhn (7), Emily Lang (7) , Kylie Lewis (7) , Adam Lombardi (8), Cody Luther (7), Zachary Mallette (7), Haley Miller (8), Megan Napoleon (7), Aiden Natale (7), Michael Oberdorf (7), Ethan Perrone (7), Kaleigh Pettit (7), Anna Renzi (8), Jacob Rodriguez (7), Taylor Serrett (7), Jayce Smith (7), Kristy Sulkowski (8), Gabriella Taylor (7), Benjamin Treese (7), Simon VerMeersch (8), Kylar Vermeulen (8), Jackson Vermeulen (8), Trinity Wells (7) and Emilena Wilck (7).
In hopes of attending the trip, students applied more than a year ago and were elected based on their applications, academics, behavior and letters of recommendation. Students selected participated in several fundraisers to help cover the $500 cost apiece of each student attending the trip.
More importantly, students, irrespective of differing political viewpoints, were prepared for the trip in social studies classes for months by learning about the lengthy electoral process including the primaries, conventions, debates, the election, the Electoral College, the smooth transfer of power in America and more.
Once in Washington, the students all wore neon orange hats so they could be easily identified and counted. Eight students were assigned to each chaperone.
“The kids were outstanding and enjoyed the experience and from what we’ve heard from parents since the trip, they said it exceeded students’ expectations,” Eakins said.
Upon their return, students prepared individual projects about their three-day adventure in the nation’s capital.
But attending the inauguration has changed some of these students minds about politics. Having a father active in local politics, Taylor said she joins her father, Newark Mayor Jonathan Taylor, during his campaigning. She’s discovered, the dairy ambassador said, that it’s hard to please everyone all the time. What she finds exciting about politics is the chance to share as much information as possible about something she’s passionate about. She said she came away from the trip with new knowledge on what goes on in the country.
The experience was a learning opportunity for others as well. Dishaw said he learned more politics and he found it interesting.
“I didn’t know much about politics before,” he said. “Now I feel I could sit down with anyone, anywhere and talk about it.”
Besides excitedly telling Klemann January 20th that it was “the best day of his life” at the inauguration, eighth grader Kylar Vermeulen said the cruise on the Potomac was “a lot of fun” and his favorite part of the trip.
His twin, Jackson Vermeulen, said attending the inauguration was a “mesmerizing experience.”
“We got to experience a part of history that doesn’t happen everyday,’’ he said.
Students also got to see the motorcade that included the car then President-Elect Trump and President Obama rode in to the inauguration.
“It was really cool! Most of us thought we saw the back of Donald Trump’s head,’’ Jackson said. Like his brother he also liked the 2½ hour cruise and also said he really liked the air and space museum.
Eighth grader Michael “Ryan” Hermenet said that attending the inauguration was the high point of the trip for him.
“It was a cool experience to see a part of history happening in person,’’ he said. “It was different than seeing it on television.”
Hermenet who has not been to Washington, D.C. before, said it was much different viewing the various memorials in person rather than seeing pictures of them.
Eighth grader Haley Miller said she hadn’t decided yet whether the cruise or visiting the air museum was the favorite part of her entire trip. She also said the inauguration speakers initially seemed boring until she saw “familiar faces” like Obama and Trump.
“That was pretty exciting,’’ she said.
“It was amazing,” Mallette said.
Tammy Whitacre is a reporter for Fingerlakes1.com covering Wayne County and the surrounding areas. You may email Tammy at firstname.lastname@example.org.