Students Focus on Message in Inaugural Address

Address highlights Backpack skills students are building now

January 20, 2021 – When Tyler Jones’ students talk about Joe Biden’s inaugural address following his swearing in as the 46th president of the United States, they’ll focus on the message as much as the messenger.

“We’ll be talking about what makes a good inaugural address,” said Jones, who teaches fifth-grade social studies at J. Graham Brown School.  “The president will be using his own voice to talk deeply about what he cares about and what is going on in our nation at this time. And the skills he’s going to be using are the same kind of success skills that our students are learning right now.”

Abilities, Jones said, like those being developed as part of the students’ Backpack of Success Skills, such as being an effective communicator and a globally and culturally competent citizen. “I want them to know, what they’re learning right now is relevant, and connected to these real things,” he said.

“I tell them, what makes America great is you guys – you can make America great because you’ve witnessed this turmoil.  And they’re learning that well-informed human beings get all the information from different sources and form their own opinions.”

In Kelly O’Riley’s World History class, the conversation around the inauguration has been less about the politics and more about the prose.

“I’m working on being as neutral as possible, so we’re focusing on the actual delivery of the speech,” the Fern Creek High School teacher said.  “We’re looking at inauguration speeches from the past, what makes a strong one, and what are the important pieces that need to be discussed.”

The comparison will help her students as they prepare for Project Soapbox, a speechwriting competition, so they’ll focus on the organization and clarity in the president’s address, his use of data, visual and nonverbal performance, and relevance of supporting arguments.

She hopes the exercise will help her students develop their own speaking voice and style.

“I want to get the kids speaking more,” she said, “saying what they’re thinking, and less of me dumping information on them.”

For many of Daria Ochenkowski’s students at Newburg Middle School, the significance of this inauguration – particularly as the country swears in Kamala Harris as its first woman, and a woman of color, vice president – is not lost on the sixth-graders.

“The daughter of immigrants, a woman, and woman of color – she’s giving a voice to so many groups that haven’t had a voice,” Ochenkowski said. “That is something profound.”

“We’re looking at the inauguration in terms of what is being communicated – what is the message being sent to our country,” she added.  “And that message is: although ours is not perfect, our national democracy still works. Democracy still stands.”