Crystal Lake, Naperville, Wheaton students to see Trump make history
Students from Crystal Lake, Naperville and Wheaton are among those making the trip to Washington to watch Donald J. Trump take the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States.
The 58th presidential inauguration ceremony will take place on the west front of the Capitol. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will be sworn in between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Roughly 160 eighth-graders from Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 middle schools, accompanied by 22 teachers and administrators, left Wednesday morning to spend four days in the nation's capital. Students from Naperville Central and Wheaton North high schools also are attending the inauguration on separate four-day trips.
"I'm really excited to go," said Emma Cruz, 13, of Lake in the Hills, an eighth-grader at Lundahl Middle School in Crystal Lake. "Our school followed (the presidential election) from beginning to end, so we learned about the whole process and watched the debates in class."
Emma said though Trump's election stoked myriad emotions among people nationwide, she's not letting it influence her attitude toward him.
"He's going to be the president, so I respect him," she said.
Lundahl eighth-grader Gabe Wisler, 14, of Crystal Lake picked up after dogs, mowed lawns and performed other odd jobs to raise more than $750 to pay for his portion of the trip's $1,500 expense.
"My parents said that I had to raise at least half of the cost to go," he said. "I guess I kind of wanted to travel."
Gabe said he has been looking forward to the trip since sixth grade. "I'm just kind of excited to know what happens when we vote," he said, "and learning about our government in action."
Naperville Central junior Tatum Satterlee and classmates Liam Doolin, a junior, and freshman Jessica Gavin said they would have enjoyed seeing a milestone moment if Hillary Clinton had won the election and become the first female president. But they recognize Trump's election is historic nonetheless and say they are looking forward to the national significance of it all.
"I thought it'd be interesting and a cool experience to be part of something that important," Tatum said.
Seeing is learning
Educators are using the occasion as a teachable moment.
"This is part of the democratic process," said Cathy Alberth, principal of Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake. "We've been planning this for over a year not knowing who the candidate will be."
Students will have a unique opportunity to witness the "peaceful transfer of power" and gain a better understanding of how government functions in a democratic society, Alberth said.
The lessons will be the same for 33 students, two teachers and an administrator traveling from Wheaton North High School to witness the nation swear in its next president, history teacher Haley Lotspeich said.
"To see an administration like this move to an administration like the one that we are getting, and see it in a peaceful manner, is something that doesn't happen anywhere else in the world," Lotspeich said. "That's a historic moment anytime you can be part of it."
Plus, Naperville Central teacher social studies Donna Mohn said, school-aged visitors can get a glimpse of Americans exercising their First Amendment rights with the Women's March on Washington set for Saturday.
"I don't know if we could have a better history lesson than seeing (the protests) and watching the government and how the people react to it," she said.
Mohn supervised students at President Barack Obama's inaugurations in 2008 and 2012 without seeing any protests, but she told the eight students traveling with her this week the atmosphere at Trump's ceremony could prove different.
Safety will be a priority, and the groups plan to stay away from the protests for the most part. But Naperville student Liam said he is hoping to catch a view of the Women's March, something he said he would have participated in if not for his previously scheduled trip to the inauguration.
On the trips -- hosted by educational tour company EF Explore America -- suburban students will visit historical sites, including The Smithsonian Museums, Arlington Cemetery, Mount Vernon, and, during a night tour, Washington monuments, such as the World War II, Korean War and Lincoln memorials.
"It's going to provide a great background because our eighth-graders are just starting to study about World War II," Alberth said.
On Inauguration Day, students must trek four miles on foot before dawn to the National Mall where they will see Trump deliver his inaugural address via Jumbotron television screens.
Trip organizers aren't expecting any security issues and say students' safety is of utmost importance. The company previously organized similar tours to Obama's inaugurations.
"They will go through several barricades of security to get into the National Mall," said Kevin Cleary, Chicago area manager for EF Explore America. "This is going to be one of the safest places to be in America on that day. All of our tour directors are trained intensively to avoid any sort of conflict and to ensure that our students are safe. If we feel that there is any sort of threat that day ... if we need to pull them out, we will definitely pull them out."
On Friday night, students will attend an inaugural ball hosted by EF Explore America along with several thousand middle and high school students from 39 states.
No matter the political leanings of the attending students or their families, Wheaton North teacher Lotspeich said the inauguration will be an educational and civic experience unlike any other.
"For the students who are thrilled with the selection of the new president to the students who are not," she said, "all of us get to be witness to history."