On January 20, 2017, thirty-two McKinney ISD 8th graders, their teachers and three Boyd seniors stood bundled up against the cold among the multitude gathered on the National Mall and watched as Donald J. Trump took the oath of office to formally become the 45th president of the United States.
And, even though the students from MISD didn’t all share the same political views, it was a rare opportunity for them to step beyond the classroom and witness our government’s peaceful transition of power firsthand.
“There was a mix [of political opinions among our students],” said Dowell history teacher Candace Pippin who accompanied her students on the trip along with Evans teacher Lindsay Ferrell and Faubion teacher Carrie Strange. “There were kids all decked out in their Trump gear, and there were others who were like, ‘Maybe that’s not my political viewpoint.’ But, regardless of what you felt politically, history was happening right there, and just to think, ‘I am in the same space with the Obamas, the Clintons, the Bushes…’ It was pretty neat.”
Typically, each spring, MISD 8th graders and seniors have an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for a weeklong educational program hosted by the Close Up Foundation. During inaugural years, they move the trip up to January.
While in D.C., the students were placed in groups with other teens from around the country for six days of tours and small-group learning activities.
“The kids got to go to Capitol Hill,” said Pippin. “They got to see the Library of Congress. They learned about the Supreme Court and the Legislature. Of course it was a little bit different [from previous years] because it was inauguration week. So, we got there on a Monday, and we actually spent that whole week learning, and the highlight of the trip was that on Friday we went to the inauguration.”
Vivienne Garner, a Dowell 8th grader, wanted to go and see it all in person. “I wanted to go because the presidential inauguration is a really big ceremony. It’s the peaceful transition of power…and that’s really cool to see how we do that.”
Part of what they saw were views from both sides of the political spectrum on display throughout the week, and for Pippin, there were valuable lessons about democracy to be learned from that. “As a history teacher, I was happy to have the kids kind of see, ‘Hey, this is what we talk about,’” she said.
“The kids learned so much on this trip. And, it was not just about Washington, D.C., and it was not just about government and history. They learned real life experiences. Some of them had never traveled on their own before, and this was their first time away,” Pippin said.
After a week of daily workshops and debates with her Close Up small group, Vivienne walked away with some new friends from other places. “It was really cool. I made some friends from Puerto Rico, and we’re still keeping in touch now. There were people from Alaska there. It was really cool to meet everybody.”
“The kids really did have the experience of a lifetime,” said Pippin. “They bought souvenirs. They took pictures. If you think, ‘How often do you get to attend an inauguration?’ Most people say, ‘Never!’ It was a very cool experience.
“They made memories for the rest of their lives from this trip. And, I would do it again. It was amazing.”