Historic Inauguration Inspires Living History Lessons

Historic Inauguration Inspires Living History Lessons
Field of flags in foreground, Capitol in background

Inauguration Day 2021 inspired a number of living history lessons at St. Hilda’s & Hugh’s. Age-appropriate class activities explored inauguration traditions, the concept of what it means to take an oath, and the music and art associated with the event, as well as students’ own concerns and hopes for the future.

Among the highlights was “The Hill We Climb,” written and recited by Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. Fifth graders wrote “found poems,” using words and sections from Ms. Gorman’s powerful piece and then creating and reciting their own poems. (A sample found poem is included at the bottom of this page.)

Eighth grade homeroom teacher Katie De Vries, who also teaches performing arts, invited students to reflect on Ms. Gorman’s message as well as on how she delivered it. The class answered questions such as, “How will you be the light?” and “How can you use your talents and voices for good and for change?” and discussed how Gorman’s presentation and voice impacted the way her words were received.

Literature: A Historic ‘First’ for Women and People of Color

Students reflected on other historic aspects of the occasion, including the inauguration of Kamala Devi Harris, at once the first woman, Black, and Asian vice president in the nation’s history. Librarian Angela Perna shared with students in 4D the picture book Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes. She also recommended for teachers two additional picture books suitable for read-aloud:  Superheroes Are Everywhere by Kamala Harris and Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris (available as eBooks in Sora). 

Art and Music of the Inauguration

Lily Ivanov, Upper Division Art: “We viewed a slideshow presentation and discussed how the visual arts were used to commemorate this historic day in the form of the public art pieces entitled, “America United: Field of Flags” and the ‘Inauguration Kolam’ project.”

Beth Soleimany, Early Childhood Music and Grades 7-8 Instrumental Ensemble: “In JK music, we played freeze dance to songs from the official Biden-Harris inauguration day playlist. We discussed how music can bring people together, even when apart. We also watched part of a Native American hoop dance performed by Indigenous Ensemble, a group that performed during the Inauguration. 

“With the instrumental ensemble, the class created their own collective Inauguration Day playlist, choosing songs that reflected themes for today’s inauguration: celebration, hope, and memorial. The playlist includes: ‘Party in the USA’; ‘Firework’; ‘Don't Stop Believin'’; ‘The Blackout’; ‘Canon in D’ by Pachelbel.”

Highlights from Throughout the School

Haden Minifie and Iwona Coronado, Beginners (2s Program): “We introduced President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris by sharing their pictures and briefly explaining their new roles. We talked about how Inauguration Day is about our new leaders taking an oath, explaining that this is a promise to the country to work hard and do their best. We also read a book, Citizen Baby: My President, by Megan E. Bryant and Daniel Prosterman, illustrated by Micah Player. We also demonstrated how to make a decorative pom-pom using red, white, and blue construction paper.”

Miriam Gutierrez and Bridget Lambert, First Grade: “Building on our discussions of the oath of office, children wrote friendship oaths. They also wrote their own letters to President Biden and Vice President Harris, giving them advice on how to be a good leader.” 

Sakiko Togi, Second Grade: “During our writing lesson, students  made journal entries reflecting on the Inauguration, tying it into the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and Dr. King’s dream. They wrote a paragraph ‘My dream for the world…’” 

Carolyn Borys and Lauren Cooke, Fifth Grade: “In class, we watched an eight-minute video on the Inauguration. The students were then given the opportunity to find five fun/interesting facts about the Inauguration and share them with the class. During our second class, the students were tasked with writing a letter to the President to express their concerns/hopes for the future.”

Jas Thodiyil, Upper Division Math: “With my sixth and seventh grade students, we discussed ‘Would you rather be a President or Vice-President?’ The responses were interesting. We also listened to an NPR short segment on Inauguration day kolam/rangoli patterns in Washington D.C., which tied into a project that the students had completed last term

“We also discussed the role of education in Vice President Harris’s life, and about her experience of being ‘different’ than many of her peers, reflecting on this statement from the new vice president: ‘Howard taught me that while you will often find that you're the only one in the room who looks like you, or who has had the experiences you've had, you must remember: you are never alone.’”

Anne Rabbino, Upper Division English and Latin: “Prior to Inauguration Day, I asked my homeroom how old they expected the inaugural poet to be. Typical responses were ‘90’ and ‘58.’ They were shocked to see the PBS NewsHour presentation on Amanda Gorman! We talked about what it said about the Biden/Harris administration that they had a young poet presenting and the first-ever youth livestream of the Inauguration. Students were universally so optimistic, which was exciting to see, especially after the sense of sadness I noticed after the events on the Capitol.

“With 8D, we watched the Inauguration address together and discussed afterwards. We talked about the tone and mood and allusions from a literary perspective, as well as the messages they noticed. We talked about taking care of each other, which is the theme of our current literary study Of Mice and Men.”

Cambridge Lynch, Upper Division Social Studies: “Following the inauguration, we used 8D’s extra social studies period to think through what divides us as a country. We brainstormed what we thought of as the ‘Other America,’ and confronted some of our stereotypes and gaps in understanding. We examined this section of Amanda Gorman’s poem:

And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose 

‘If you’re perfect, then you’re done,” one student commented. 

 Fifth Grade Found Poem

The neverending burden of Americans.
We envision light and peace but we are in the belly of the beast.
We reach our arms to one another to strive for purpose for the world.
The dawn of a new era we hope for.
Light, Purpose, Peace, and Justice, hope for a new dawn.
President Biden seeks justice for our union.
We compose a country to all colors and conditions of man for the next generation.
Our country will rise from bruised to pristine.
The next generation will inherit this bruised union if we do not rise.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first.
We braved the shade and will find the light.
In truth we learned that quiet isn’t always peace.
We will brave the shade and see the light.
We step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.
This nation is not broken but it is not perfect.
We strive for our nation to have purpose not to be perfect.
Put our differences aside and put our future first.
Americans being Americans puts more pride in us.
We lift our gaze from what's before us to the future.
We have purpose and will defeat the neverending shade.
We will not grieve but march.
March out of the shade to offer laughter.
Reach our arms to one another and close the divide for this country to offer hope.
While History has its eye on us and the whole globe.