About 100 seventh graders at Brooklawn Middle Schoolassembled in the school's media center Monday morning to take in a historic event: the second inaugural address of the 44th President of the United States, Barack H. Obama.
The children watched intently, taking notes as they watched the television broadcast. Social studies teacher Josh Weinstein said the students will be writing letters to President Obama after his speech.
Weinstein said teachers at Brooklawn are trying to inspire students to become politically aware and active at an early age.
"A lot of time kids don't get that lesson until they're in high school," he told Patch. "But if you haven't gotten them by middle school, it's done."
The official theme of the 57th inauguration was "Faith in America's Future," but what the children noticed was that in his speech, the president mentioned the word "together" seven times.
In a post-speech discussion, Weinstein told students that togetherness and unity were vital factors in making and keeping the U.S. a successful nation.
"Without the participation of the people, nations fall," he said, encouraging the girls and boys to get involved in politics, in Parsippany—and even in school.
"If you have a problem, call the mayor. He works for you. You pay his salary. [at school], talk to the principal," he said. "That's how you can make a difference."
Weinstein asked the students for questions about what they had seen and heard, given that references to "Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall"—about the struggles for equality for women, African-Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens—likely went over their heads.
One student asked about the words of Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, and the teacher pointed out that Blanco's words described how all citizens are bound together as a nation.
The children also mentioned how much they enjoyed the performances of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and pop star (and the first American Idol) Kelly Clarkson, and that they got a kick out of seeing rapper Jay-Z in the audience. (Teachers mentioned their enjoyment of the choir and singer-songwriter James Taylor.)
More than anything, though, the students paid close attention to the president's words during his 19-minute address.
"The best part was how our journey doesn't end until we solve the problems in our nation," said student Lydia Parker. "I'm an animal person, so the most important thing to me is working to completely end animal cruelty."
Lydia said she hopes to do her part by becoming a veterinarian and focusing on animals' health. Until then, she said she is helping out at the Parsippany Animal Shelter.
Her classmate Vrinda Jain said she also was inspired by the speech and will tell President Obama that in her letter to him.
"I'm going to ask him to work on ending world hunger," she said. "I also want him to help the poor."
Vrinda said she has helped with her church's work to help feed needy people.
"I think Parsippany is doing a good job there."
Another student said the inaugural address didn't really capture his attention until the president spoke of American children.
"Obama talked a lot about kids then, and I really liked that," said seventh grader Ben Walek. "He said we had to get kids into the workforce sooner. After college, I want to go right into work. He also said that we, us, working together, can get the economy in better shape."
The youngster said he hopes to work in the field of law when he grows up. He also said the inaugural address changed his mind about the president.
"I wasn't a big Obama supporter; I didn't really like Obama," Ben said. "But I liked the speech. He did a good job."