Castle Hill kids whoop it up for Obama

On Tuesday, January 20, students at P.S. 36 in Castle Hill performed an inauguration play and watched Barack Obama sworn in as President. (Above) Fifth grader Tachi Best, 10, played Obama in the play. Photos by Victor Chu

On Tuesday, January 20, Barack Obama asked the people of the United States to “set aside childish things.” For the children of Castle Hill, his words held special meaning.

P.S. 36 Principal Nilda Rivera has encouraged her students to explore politics this school year. To ditch Hillary Duff for Hillary Clinton, ESPN for CNN.

The school held a democratic primary in November and a mock inauguration ceremony on January 16. Saleema Moore, 8, sat quietly waiting for Obama’s inaugural address.

“I think Barack Obama will do a good job as president,” Moore said. “I’ve heard his speeches. He talks about change.”

Moore and her peers were set to watch the inauguration on a gigantic projection screen in P.S. 36’s auditorium. ABC News chose the school to receive a live feed from Washington, D.C.

Bradley Rivera, a fourth grader born in Honduras, wore a blue shirt, white sneakers and a red bandana around his neck.

“I’m feeling great,” said Rivera, minutes before Obama’s swearing in. “I’m imagining all the great things Barack Obama is going to do for this country.”

Technical difficulties derailed the auditorium plan. Instead, Rivera and his classmates filed upstairs to watch Obama on television sets in the library, a classroom and the main office.

Disappointment over the botched feed gave way to excitement as Obama took the podium.

“I’m beyond excited,” science teacher Lee Siegfried said. “My heart is full of joy for this moment, for the children.”

She and Rivera the principal hope Obama will send relief to the neighborhood’s poor and working class families.

In the library, more than a hundred children sat rapt, eyes locked on America’s 44th President. He spoke to them.

“We remain a young nation,” Obama said. “But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. To carry forward that precious gift…the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

A number of P.S. 36 students scribbled notes on lined paper.

“I love his tie – power red!” Rivera the principal exclaimed. “Now, let’s hear it…O-BAM-A! O-BAM-A!”

Her students cheered and showed off their Barack wristbands. After the speech, the children offered astute analysis.

“It was cool how he stumbled over his words,” said fourth grader Nicole Nieves, referring to Obama and Justice John Roberts’ butchered oath. “It showed he’s a real human being.”

Another fourth grader, Jonathan Navarro, chimed in.

“Barack Obama is the most unique president in history,” Navarro said. “He’s made a lot of promises, and I think he’s going to keep them.”

Leading up to the inauguration, P.S. 36 teachers spoke with the kids about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Obama.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. said anybody could succeed,” explained Mohammed Khan, a fifth grader. “Barack Obama proved him right.”

Khan left for lunch, but Jerome Key, a janitor, hung around.

“I grew up in South Carolina,” Key said. “I went to an all-black school. I never thought I would live to see this happen.”

Feinberg rehashed Obama’s speech with Darnell Thomas, 10. Thomas, one of eight children, lives in the Castle Hill Houses.

“Does today feel like your birthday?” Feinberg asked.

Thomas nodded.

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