President-elect Barack Obama visited P.S. 36 on Friday, January 16. Sporting a sharp blue blazer, Obama placed his hand on a worn Bible. “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear…”
Except that Obama was in Bedford Heights, Ohio, touring a wind turbine plant.
In Castle Hill, it was actually Tachi Best, 10, standing in for the commander-in-chief. A fifth grader, Best played Obama in P.S. 36’s mock inauguration ceremony.
Principal Nilda Rivera has the school hooked on politics. Her students know Vice-President Joe Biden’s platform. Rivera ran a P.S. 36 primary in October; Hillary Clinton won.
On Tuesday, January 20, Best and his friends watched the Obama inauguration live from P.S. 36’s auditorium, thanks to ABC News and the NYC Department of Education.
“January 20 is going to be the most exciting day of your lives,” Rivera told a group of fourth graders Friday. “Bring your pen and pad. Four or five phrases you hear will go down in history.”
Best belongs to the school’s Talented and Gifted program for fifth graders. On Friday, Mohammed Khan, another Talented and Gifted student, played Joe Biden. Michelle Obama attended the ceremony, as did Laura Bush.
Following Friday’s swearing in, Rivera took questions. Her well-drilled students clamored to answer.
“Why will Barack Obama take the oath on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible?” asked Bradley Rivera, 10.
“Because Abraham Lincoln was the first president to try and stop slavery,” Jorge Pomales, 9, said. “If slavery was still going on, there would have been no chance for Barack Obama to become president.”
Last fall, Rivera’s students drew up campaign posters. They held fiery debates. Even P.S. 36’s pre-kindergarteners voted. Rivera had them check a box – donkey or elephant.
Rivera’s students like to chant John F. Kennedy’s legendary maxim, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
The principal remembers watching JFK’s inauguration speech on January 20, 1961.
Doreanna Bellavista, 9, won’t likely forget Obama’s big day.
“I’m very excited about the inauguration,” Bellavista said Friday. “I hope [Obama] helps people in the houses, because sometimes our water turns cold. I hope he opens more animal shelters, because our neighborhood has a lot of stray cats.”
Bellavista lives on Havemeyer Avenue in Castle Hill.
Wanda Betancourt runs P.S. 36’s Talented and Gifted program.
Betancourt’s lessons are hitting home, literally. The inauguration had P.S. 36 parents energized as well. Selina Zahan, Khan’s mother, volunteers at the school. She’s from Bangladesh. Khan was born in America.
“Mohammed has learned a lot,” Zahan said. “He watches the news on T.V. He wants to become president. He wants to help people.”