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Educator Commits to Creating Informed Citizens by Taking Students to Upcoming Inauguration

For veteran Chicago educator Jenny Vincent, this election has proved to be one of the most valuable lessons for students from all backgrounds and from families of all political affiliations. For Vincent, it represents a one-of-a-kind opportunity to demonstrate to students just how the democratic process in America works.

And that’s why, despite a tough rhetoric resulting in high tensions, Vincent won’t be shying away from taking her students to what will likely be one of the most unique political events in U.S. history in many years: the inauguration of fiercely divisive Republican candidate Donald Trump.

It helps that this won’t be Vincent’s first trip with students to a presidential inauguration. In 2012, Vincent worked tirelessly to help her class be the only public middle school class from Chicago to watch President Barack Obama be sworn in for his second term.

In partnership with EF Explore America, Vincent watched her group of 17 twelve- and thirteen-year-olds witness history. Back in August, as Vincent began early preparation for this year’s upcoming inauguration tour, she reminisced on just how impactful that moment was on her students’ lives.

"The kids were vibrating like live wires," Vincent described of her students, calling the moment the highlight of her teaching career so far.

On January 20, Vincent is doing it all again, but this time with a few more students than 17. After the successful experience in 2012, Vincent will be traveling to D.C. with over 40 students this time-around.

Although the post-election climate in U.S. schools has been perceived as a negative one due to an uptick in harassment and bullying fueled by this election’s difficult political conversations, Vincent describes the climate as one that can be used to encourage students to form their own political identity in a healthy manner.

"When we had our pre-departure meeting, we really stressed that this is the time when [students] start to form [their] political identity," she said, using the meeting to quell the occasional parental concern about the trip. 

"Let them experience … and understand the process and that we live in a democracy. One side wins and one side loses," she said. "Right now, half of the country is up in arms and for the last eight years the other half of the country has been upset and up in arms."

She has had to placate several students who have expressed concern for their futures under the next presidency; during playground and hallway conversations she tells students about the strengths of the U.S. democratic process. As students understand the difference between campaigning and governing, they are also able to understand why lofty campaign promises oftentimes get stymied by the government's checks and balances. 

Most of all, Vincent encourages her students to be the change they want to see. She says to students: "If there’s something that you really like, use that as a catalyst … to make some sort of change."

Vincent's students learn the power of their own voices--while being able to tolerate the voices of their peers. Vincent's students learn that ownership of an opinion can be had without infringing on those of others, hence why she discouraged one student from partaking in the inauguration decked out in gear that pays tribute to Trump's election opponent, Hillary Clinton. Having respect, Vincent reiterates, is an important thing. 

By inspiring students to pursue their individual interests in a respectful manner, Vincent's confident it won't be her students who resist political contribution in the future. 

Overall, Vincent stressed how lucky she feels to be able to facilitate this important education of her students.

"How lucky I am that I get to facilitate it … I’m lucky enough that I get to watch them and guide them through the experience because I feel much better about the future of America watching them participate in this when they aren’t even able to," she said.

"I think that there is such a beautiful thing about middle schoolers. Their eyes are open to so many new things almost on a minute-by-minute basis ... that they vacillate so much. As educators we’ve been very deliberate in challenging what they think is good and what they think is bad and presenting multiple perspectives almost in a kaleidoscope fashion."

In August, Carla Gottschall, Executive Vice President of Sales at EF Explore America, expressed similar sentiments about the importance of educational travel and experience in the spite of tough topics.

"It’s even more important now than ever for students to have the opportunity to experience the inauguration, to understand how our government works ... regardless of your political affiliation.... I think having the opportunity for students to understand that they are being a part of history is so important," she said.

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will be held Friday, January 20.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

1/4/2017

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