Iowa’s “first in the nation” status means presidential hopefuls have been frequent visitors to our state and city for nearly half a century. During that time the road to the White House has run through Des Moines Public Schools from time to time as candidates have paid visits to several of our schools.
The 46th President and Vice President of the United States were no exception.
On the campaign trail leading up to the 2020 caucuses, then-candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden held events at McKinley Elementary School and Hiatt Middle School, while candidate and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris visited with students and teachers at King Elementary School.
Today, many DMPS students watched President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris inaugurated on the same U.S. Capitol steps, where two weeks before, on January 6, a mob of people attacked the Capitol attempting to overturn the election through violence and vandalism. While Senators and Representatives were able to evacuate in time, five other people died.
While this year’s inauguration looked different than years prior, with a larger security presence and fewer attendees due to the global COVID-19 Pandemic, East High School social science teacher Randi Fitzgerald shared that it was important her students saw the peaceful transition of power in this historic time.
“We still have a pretty divided nation, with some people (and some of our students) still firmly believing the election was ‘rigged’,” she said. “The inauguration marks a change that some welcome and some do not. So how we decide to move forward as a country is significant.”
Fitzgerald said Inauguration Day is important to share with students because currently and historically it is a great example of our constitutional principles in action, specifically, popular sovereignty.
“While in my government class, we discuss popular sovereignty is not simply the majority wins, but the minority respects the outcome of the election,” she said.
Over at Hoover High School, Madison Greif’s FLEX Academy class watched the ceremonial and cultural tradition together, listening carefully to the Oath of Office. She asked her students to view it through a global lens.
“I think it is important that students know the world is watching the inauguration as it shows a peaceful transfer of power, something the U.S. was the first in the world to achieve,” Greif said.
She noted that her students did not seem to make a big deal out of a woman holding the office of the Vice President, a nod to the norm women in power now represent. But her skin color and heritage have a significant impact on how her students see their own futures.
“Our first female, first black and first Indian American Vice President is being sworn into national office,” she said. “(Vice President Kamala Harris) represents hope, change, and endless possibilities to many Americans.”
Greif has tracked President Biden’s Washington, D.C. leadership selections, holding up examples of futures that have the power to take hold in the minds of students who have not before seen someone who looks like them leading the country.
“This new administration looks different, is inclusive, and my female students and students of color are seeing themselves represented in national leadership today.”
The civics lesson opportunity offered by the Inauguration didn’t apply just to high schools but also the youngest students in the district. At Madison Elementary School, kindergartner Emily Montalvo (pictured above) raised her hand along with Kamala Harris as she took the oath of office as Vice President of the United States.
As her teacher, Serra Wittenwyler, noted: “At Madison Elementary School, Kindergarten students learned about inauguration day, the important role of the president and vice president, and took a virtual tour of the White House. The students witnessed history as Kamala Harris became the first woman, first Black woman, and first South Asian woman to be elected as the 49th vice president. Our students are always watching and today was significant because every child watching sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
Finally, while the big news on Inauguration Day was in Washington, DC there was some small news at the Central Campus agricultural program. Two baby lambs were born on January 20. Students got to name them: Joey B. and Kamala.