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In bay area schools, students get to watch Obama's inauguration

Come Tuesday, students all over the Tampa Bay area will get a rare treat: Teachers will tell them to put down their books and watch a little TV.

History will come into the classroom about noon, when Barack Obama takes the oath of office as the country's 44th president.

Students not only will share a pivotal national moment with the swearing in of the first African-American president, educators say, but they also can contemplate their own personal possibilities.

"Barack Obama gives them a role model that, for them, is real," said Keith Jacobs, who runs a study skills program at Hillsborough County's Dowdell Middle magnet school.

"He did not get where he is through athletics or music," Jacobs said. "… He comes from a single-parent family. His mother raised him, and his grandmother. Our kids can identify with that."

How prominently the election and inauguration will figure into the curriculum varies from county to county, school to school and classroom to classroom.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday wrote a letter to state Education Commissioner Eric Smith asking him to encourage schools to let students watch the event.

In Pinellas, social studies supervisors circulated model lesson plans from the Southern Poverty Law Center and TeachingTolerance.org to every school.

Hillsborough also sent out grade-specific lesson plans and resources.

"For social studies, this is sort of what you live for," said Dennis Holt, Hillsborough's high school social studies supervisor. "These moments really, really hammer home the importance of what we teach."

At Crews Lake Middle in Pasco County's Shady Hills area, principal Chris Christoff said he'll make sure any students or teachers who want to see Obama sworn in will have the chance. TVs will fire up about 11:30 a.m., he said, so kids can see the events leading up to the oath at noon.

"Teachers use this time to talk about the importance of the presidency," said Kathy Steiner, Pasco's director of curriculum. "Most of our secondary teachers do use that as a teachable moment."

Joe Clifford, principal at J.D. Floyd K-8 School of Environmental Science in Hernando County, said he expects to run Obama's inaugural address on a continuous video loop during the day.

Barbara Russell loves the idea. She has a second-grader and fifth-grader at Brooksville's Chocachatti Elementary.

"It's important for them to see who's running the country, and to see that it's a happy thing," she said.

Russell said the school already has helped her children, both white, understand the significance of America electing its first black president.

They should also know how democracies move from one leader to the next, she said Thursday.

"I plan on them watching President Bush tonight, because it's important to know what a president does when he leaves office."

While it's too early to quantify the effect Obama's presidency might have on minority student performance, a few educators said they already see positive signs.

Tricia McManus, principal of Just Elementary School in central Tampa, recalled a conversation with a fifth-grader who wants to be a judge. McManus could sense that the student responded when advised to work on her test scores and sign up for challenging classes when she moves on to middle school.

"I do think in our students' minds, (Obama's presidency) has opened doors for them," McManus said. "It's a sense of, "He can be the president and so can I.' "

Times staff writers Thomas C. Tobin, Tom Marshall, Marlene Sokol, Letitia Stein and Jeffrey S. Solochek and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

In bay area schools, students get to watch Obama's inauguration 01/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 11:27pm]
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