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Tuesday's event brings teaching opportunities

Exuberance over the inauguration of the nation's first black president was an opportune teaching moment for local history teachers who led lively student discussions Tuesday and oversaw more hands-on projects related to the 44th American commander in chief.

"It's exciting to be a history teacher in the context of how history is unfolding in front of our eyes," said Dan Woodward, a social studies teacher at South Medford High School near downtown. "It's a special time and a motivator for students to be involved."

In Ashland in southern Jackson County, semester finals at the high school were suspended for about an hour around 9 a.m. so students could see the oath of office and Obama's speech, said history teacher Matt McKinnon.

Butte Falls schools Superintendent Tim Sweeney called off all classes during the inauguration, allowing students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade to watch the historic event on TVs at the country schools.

Dave Lefkowitz, a ninth-grade world studies teacher at South Medford High School, used Obama's inauguration to touch on life in Kenya, where Obama's father was born, and similar countries that live in poverty. (Kenya had a two-day national holiday when Obama was elected.)

"So much of the world has placed hope in him, largely because of his background," Lefkowitz said.

"I think the kids now have some understanding of what Obama's election means to people in a village in Kenya."

Obama's message to nations with which the United States has difficult relations such as North Korea and Iran seemed to resonate with students, Lefkowitz said.

Obama words were, "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Sophomores in Woodward's American studies classes at South Medford created about 40 video documentaries called "A Message to the Next President." In the videos, students explored some of the issues facing Obama, including health care, war, the economy and illegal immigration.

"I think it was a good project based on the history this (president) is creating and a good way to learn about issues politicians are having to deal with," said Riley Yandell, a sophomore in Woodward's class.

Riley's documentary was about illegal immigration.

"I don't think immigration is a greater issue than the economy, but I do think it should be one of Obama's main priorities," Riley said.

Riley watched the inauguration Tuesday in her first-period English class.

"A lot of people were really excited about watching it," Riley said. "Not everyone was paying attention, but the people who did were excited and were aware it was a pivotal time in our history."

Pupils in Kevin Keating's world studies class at the tiny Butte Falls High School in northeast Jackson County took notes on Obama's speech and then, discussed some of his catch phrases during class.

"We talked (about) whether we are still a confident nation (as Obama alluded to) basing our arguments on the economy, the war, health care and the housing situation," Keating said. "It was a pretty exciting day. The students definitely caught the general idea that something big was taking place."

The discussions continued throughout the day even in English and math classes.

By the time Keating's American history class rolled around at 2 p.m., he said students were well-versed in Obama's speech.

Students may even see a question about Obama on the class's final exam Friday.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.