By Melissa Enaje and Matthew O’Connor
Timing is everything. For students in Joe Russo’s government class at Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary, Elmhurst, it meant that on the last day before midterm exams and before the curriculum switched to economics, Donald J. Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States.
“The seniors almost certainly did not have the understanding and knowledge four years ago that they have now as they are on the verge of adulthood and voting age,” said Russo. “It’s very important that they see the peaceful transition of power from one administration to another.”
Streaming from a laptop onto a projector screen, the inauguration had the nearly 20 students staring intently on the faces and places that played a significant role in the country’s politics and policies.
“I want them to really get the sense that they are part of the system and watching this event is part of political participation,” added Russo. “Inauguration day should be a day of hope and joy for Americans as we look for a better future.”
As the students contemplated the future, they were also glimpsing into America’s past as prominent political names popped on screen. When George W. Bush and his wife appeared, Russo made sure the students were aware that he was a former president. The class started to chatter amongst themselves when their instructor said that Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan was at the inauguration sharing Scripture and praying for the new president.
Even before the swearing into office of the new president, Russo’s students engaged in discussions and lessons about the government. They started with the primaries, then continued with the party nominations and also talked about the debates and political polls. For them, the inauguration was the culmination of watching a presidential campaign take place in real-time.
For junior Joseph Krug, instead of doing other activities, he decided to spend his free period watching the change of power in hopes that Trump will bring focus back to America.
“I hope he will create jobs and defend American interest at home and abroad,” said Krug. “I hope he will bring a new focus to more Catholic values, even though he’s not a Catholic man, just (bring) a focus on the life issue, marriage issue.”
As for senior David Brancale, he hopes the economy gets better and that America doesn’t start a nuclear war. He wants to vote when he turns 18 after calling this election a fun experience.
“It was almost like a game seeing how many people would vote in such a state and how many votes were needed,” said Brancale. “It was great to see how all the numbers worked out and the chances that people would predict and how they were in the projection polls.”
Getting the students involved in their government was the key takeaway for Russo’s government class.
“I want them to be future citizens,” he said. “I always tell them ‘you have to vote, you have to be the person who writes the emails, fills out the questionnaire. Don’t be silent.”
For Russo, he has seen some fruits of his labor. One of his former students volunteered with New York State Assembly member Robert Carroll, while another former student now works for Cathedral Prep alumnus and New York City council member Eric Ulrich.
The student leader for Cathedral’s senior class, Joel Edouard, had a lot of friends that went to protest at Trump Tower. His hope is for peace. With that peace comes responsibility and for the senior leader, it clicks.
“It just shows how important voting is,” Edouard said. “Trump really went out there to get that vote and he got that vote.”
Excitement in Dyker Heights
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Academy, Dyker Heights, was one of many elementary schools viewing the inauguration. Each class watched in its classroom and enjoyed a dress down day with almost all the students wearing red, white and blue or other patriotic-themed clothing.
The day created quite a buzz of excitement for the school as many students were excited since for many it is the first one they will remember.
Students in second-grade teacher Jennifer Borthwick’s class couldn’t control their excitement and even struggled to stay in their seats when asked to explain how the checks and balance system works and to name some of the rights they have as American citizens.
Fifth-grade teacher Linda LaBarbera tied it all together for her students.
“The students are very excited that they get to see it live,” she said. “Seeing what they are learning come to life creates such excitement. They are thrilled to see it firsthand and see a subject come to life.”
LaBarbera also used the historic day in her math class as well as the teaching of various word problems.
In spite of the divisions in the country, the eighth-grade class is an example of seeing the good in things.
Olivia Carofalo said, “I am excited to see what happens and it is good to be a part of history. Some of the other kids wanted Hillary (Clinton) to win but even though that didn’t happen, we are still all friends and not divided.”
Classmate Erick Maurt added, “It is very exciting to see history in the making as people will always remember this day. I am looking forward to seeing change for the better and anything that can help our country.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Principal Nicholas Troiani summed up the experience, “The students are very excited to be a part of history. I allowed them to wear and show their Trump gear and clothing because it is important for them to express themselves. We are all excited to see the feedback of such a unique election, and to be a part of something so different that will change our country.”