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Harlem School Hosts Inaugural Watch

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More than 5,000 people are expected to fill the Harlem Armory for an inauguration watch party tomorrow. Most of them will be students from local public and private schools. The party was organized by a Harlem charter school because there was so much interest and excitement about the inauguration. WNYC’s Beth Fertig visited the school that’s playing host.

At the Democracy Prep Charter School, Tuesday’s inauguration is a chance for the school’s own students to shine. The school and its 315 students are organizing what’s probably the biggest viewing party in Harlem.

DUFFY: Right now there’s going to be 4500 other students there from schools in Brooklyn, in the Bronx, in Harlem, in Manhattan.

Katie Duffy, the school’s director of external relations and fundraising, told students at a town hall meeting that they’d better look sharp.

DUFFY: You guys are the hosts, and so you know what that means. Which means that I expect a lot from you. I expect you to be modeling for everyone what appropriate, scholarly behavior is, especially on a day as important as this.

The students – who are called scholars - sat in rows on the floor of the gym in a position called the star: legs folded, palms together on their laps, straight backs. No chatting. They watched a video recorded earlier that day featuring 40 classmates. They were part of a special inauguration committee that had gone to Washington, DC for the day with their Head of School, Seth Andrew, to look around the Capital. He led the all the students in the pledge.

PRINCIPAL: Back in Harlem on three. One, two, three: I pledge allegiance to the flag. The students in DC had documented the route of the inauguration, and a video they’re producing will be shown in Harlem on Tuesday. Duffy says they realized it would be too expensive to actually attend the inauguration, so they decided to throw the biggest party they could in Harlem.

DUFFY: And so then it was do we just invite charter schools, other charter schools? Is it just for Democracy Prep? And they decided they wanted to invite other schools, but not just charters. They wanted everybody to be able to come.

Invitations went out to local community groups. The students also wanted some entertainment. A marching band from Truman High School in the Bronx will perform; so will a gospel choir from the Children’s Storefront school in Harlem. And Democracy Prep’s own step team will dance. The city’s Department of Education is providing lunch and transportation for all the students. Democracy Prep is renting the Harlem armory and three giant video screens.

The election and the inauguration were prime opportunities for Democracy Prep to expand on its theme of active citizenship. The students participated in get out the vote activities. They also held their own mock election – though only one student voted for John McCain. And they wrote essays about Barack Obama’s victory.

TAMESHA: If I was president the first thing I would do is try to get homeless people into homes.

Sixth grader Tamesha Brown wrote that one in her literature class. She and her classmate, Joshua Graves, say just because the election is over doesn’t mean the new president won’t be part of their lessons.

JOSHUA: Even though like school’s not really pertaining to elections, like having a black president is like, we’ll get motivated to do our work and not let ourselves down because if we do our work, we might be the next black president one day.

TAMESHA: I think we could probably meet him, or we’ll send letters to him, give him ideas and stuff.

And if President Obama does something they don’t agree with, Tamesha says she’ll be sure to tell him. For WNYC I’m Beth Fertig.

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