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Obama’s inauguration becomes learning experience for Glenwood Springs High School students

Kelley Cox Post Independent
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” What do teaching a foreign language to high school students and watching U.S. political history as it unfolds have to do with one another?

For Glenwood Springs High School French teacher Sara Malnati, there is a common thread between the art of language and the historic event that played out in Washington, D.C., Tuesday with the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama.

“This is certainly a historic event. Anything else I would have to teach my students today is not as important as this moment,” said Malnati, whose French I students watched the inauguration ceremony on television Tuesday morning in the classroom of social studies teacher Joe Rankin.



As newly sworn-in President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were shown standing alongside former President George Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, Malnati asked her students what message that portrayed.

“Unity,” one student replied. “That they get along,” said another.



True, Malnati said, but it also serves to communicate to the rest of the world that the United States has a peaceful transfer of power when it comes to changing leaders.

“When you teach a language, that’s really about teaching communication,” Malnati said. “And what better way to teach communication than by observing the events going on around you, and using that as a way to teach the target language.”

GSHS senior Shannon O’Gara-Standiford took that message to heart.

“We talked about how (Obama’s election) affects us, and how other countries look on us,” she said. “I’m so excited. It restores my faith in humanity.”

Senior Elizabeth Lopez will use Obama’s inaugural address as the basis for a presentation she will give to her ELL (English Language Learner) classmates on Wednesday.

“Minorities as a group can look at this and have more desire to be something bigger, and know that they can achieve it now,” she said through an interpreter, fellow senior Anna Chavira. “As daughters of immigrants, it means hope to us.”

Sophomore Rudy Argueta agreed.

“Barack Obama is making history, and he’s giving inspiration to people that says you can do anything you want to, no matter who you are or where you come from,” he said.”

Students in many area schools paused from their regular studies Tuesday to watch the historic event, or incorporate it into their course work.

“Some teachers used it as an instruction piece in their classes,” said Howard Jay, principal at Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood. “The older kids were into it more. They watched the speech and were having discussions in their classrooms along those lines.”

Betsy Graf, a history teacher at Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High School, had planned to have her students watch the inauguration live via Web cast, but couldn’t get a connection due to the high volume of Internet traffic. Instead, her students gathered around a radio and listened.

“I think the kids today can make more of a connection to Barack Obama than any of the other presidents before him. Something like this helps their education as a whole,” said Graf, who taped the inauguration proceedings at home and planned to replay it in class later this week.

Glenwood High School social studies teachers Rankin, Guy Brickell and Miles Cook have been focusing their teaching on the historic significance of Obama’s inauguration in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s events.

Brickell’s students read Joseph J. Ellis’ “Founding Brothers,” which includes a chapter about the founding fathers’ views on the institution of slavery.

“Today, we’re mostly just watching and reflecting on the historic event,” Brickell said.

Cook noted that Obama used Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural Bible to take his own oath of office.

“It is significant that he is our first African-American president, and Lincoln was the president who freed the slaves,” Cook said.

Said GSHS sophomore Amy Currier, “I think it shows how far America has come from slavery and segregation.”

“I’m not too into politics, but I think he’s going to be good,” said Max Harrington, also a sophomore.


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