Locals among thousands at Obama inauguration

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Social studies students able to witness history

By Amber Coulter

There was a Hardin County flavor Monday among the sea of people attending the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Area students and adults turned out to witness the making of history and see how the lessons they learn in the classroom are used in the outside world.

Anthony Durrant, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at James T. Alton Middle School, said his students had many questions during a unit on government.

It seemed like a good opportunity to show social studies in action when an educational travel consultation group emailed Durrant about a chance to take students to the inauguration.

“It becomes more real to them,” he said. “It’s not just something that’s in a book. It’s something that they actually lived.”

The sixth-graders were excited, especially when Durrant explained not everyone gets to go to an inauguration, and they can tell their children and grandchildren about the experience. It was the teacher’s first time at such a ceremony.

Durrant said the 72 sixth-graders and 23 parents who left with him on two buses chatted about various subjects on the trip to Washington, D.C. Some wondered whether they’d be able to see anything.

Students were talking about how the things they saw related to their school lessons by the time the group returned Tuesday morning, in plenty of time to make their classes.

They talked about how they didn’t know how tall former President Abraham Lincoln was until they stood next to a life-sized statue, how the high cost of food and other items in Washington, D.C., demonstrated the effect demand has on price and other connections they made between their trip and their textbooks.

“I was kind of amazed that they were talking about that without a teacher leading the conversation,” he said.

Hayley Yourous, another James. T. Alton sixth-grade social studies teacher who went on the trip, said the experience was a hot topic of conversation Tuesday between the half of the school’s sixth-graders who went and the rest, who couldn’t attend for various reasons.

One of the girls who went waved at a television camera as the group walked by during the inauguration. Her classmates who stayed home told the girl they saw her on television.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

It’s sometimes hard to make social studies interesting. Being able to include a hands-on experience helps appeal to students, Yourous said.

“I hope that they understand the process a little bit better and understand how important it is to be part of your government,” she said.

Many of the students seemed overwhelmed by the size of the crowd at the National Mall in Washington, she said.

Ben Schell, a LaRue County High School freshman social studies teacher, said news organizations said about 800,000 people were expected to attend. There was a diverse, chanting crowd of Obama supporters.

Schell and a group of 13 students from all grades and four chaperones went to see all the capitol landmarks, including Ford’s Theater, Smithsonian museums and monuments and memorials before Monday’s inauguration.

He wanted to give students a chance to be part of a ceremony that has happened only 56 other times in the nation’s history.

“Being there, being part of history, seeing history with your own eyes is something rare,” he said.

Central Hardin High School band director David Centers was part of the festivities, playing in the group Lincoln’s Own Band during the inauguration and in several places throughout the capital.

The same band played in the movie “Lincoln” and is scheduled to appear on the “Today” show this morning.

Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com.