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Obama inauguration holds students' attention
Times photo: Brenda Steurer Parkside Elementary School students in Lynda Millers fifth-grade class stand Tuesday as they watch Barack Obama be sworn in as president. The students rose when the event announcer was heard on the television asking for everyone in the audience to stand.
MONROE - The historical significance of President Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday was not lost on fifth-graders at Parkside Elementary School.

Students in Lynda Miller's classroom were finding common denominators and adding fractions minutes before the inauguration ceremony officially began in Washington D.C. But at 10:30 a.m., the television came on so the children could witness the swearing-in.

The event was important because Obama is the first African-American to hold the office of president, Jordan Miller explained.

Students realized electing a black man to office was not always possible in this country. "Black people used to not even be able to drink out of the same fountain," Tanner Purdy explained.

They speculated it would be "cool" and "awesome" to trade places with Obama's daughters, Malia, age 10, and Sasha, age 7, and have the whole White House in which to roam.

"I'd have a huge room," Brooke said. "Far away from my brother."

Miles Cohagen saw a downside, though. "They'd probably be overprotective," he said of adults in the White House.

Secret Service personnel would follow you around everywhere, too, Jordan agreed.

But still, he added, you could sleep in Abraham Lincoln's bed. "It's the softest bed in America. That's what it's known for," he confided.

Obama has his work cut out for him in the next four years. In addition to dealing with a crippling recession, Parkside fifth-graders had their own agenda for the new president.

"He should listen to people. And lower taxes," Jordan said.

"Stop spending so much in Iraq," Miles said. He added Obama should "invest in making cars that don't run on fossil fuels."

Tanner was more concerned about the Obama family's much publicized efforts to find a dog. "He should lower prices on dogs," Tanner said to the general agreement of his neighbors.

"What if he (the dog) poops on the presidential seal in the Oval Office?" Jordan said, displaying a knowledge of both White House geography and the potential mishaps that come with dog ownership.

As the next president was introduced on television, Brooke noted his slender build will serve him well in the White House. "He's skinny so he won't get stuck in a bathtub."

When questioned why this would be a concern, several students agreed that a former president got stuck in a bathtub - they just couldn't recall which one.

"You might want to check that out before you put it in the newspaper," Jordan advised. (The Web site confirmed William Howard Taft, who weighed more than 300 pounds, did in fact get stuck in a White House bathtub and subsequently had an oversized tub installed.)

As the ceremony proceeded, students offered a few more to-do items for Obama.

Cady Nelson and Jada Zimmerman agreed lowering gas prices would be a good idea. Derek Christiansen said Obama should stop the war in Iraq, and Mitchell Barradas wants the new president to stop gangs from shooting each other. And Kylea Ambrose suggested he help homeless people get a home.

The environment should be a top priority, Hannah Zweifel offered. "He should stop global warming. It's killing all the animals like polar bears, and the penguins are forced to move because their home is melting," she said.

Students watched as Sen. Joe Biden took the oath of office to become vice president. Biden's public display of affection when he kissed family members drew "eeeewwwws!" from more than a few boys. Even after being reassured it was just a peck on the cheek, they agreed it was "gross."

Finally, the moment arrived with full participation of the students. When the inauguration audience was asked to stand, the students immediately rose to their feet. After the oath was administered and cheers broke out in the Washington audience, students clapped and waved invisible flags as well.

As the 44th president of the United States began his first official address, the clock ticked toward lunchtime. Miller told students they could bring their lunches back and eat them at their desks to watch the rest of the television coverage if they wished.

But it was a bit anticlimactic. As Obama urged Americans to "begin the work of remaking America," students lined up for the cafeteria.

They had stood as witnesses to history. But now, with the smell of chicken patties wafting down the hall, it was time for a more pressing concern - lunch.