Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 | 3:23 p.m.
Students at J. Marlan Walker International School had no problem on Friday reciting who had served the shortest term as president: William Harrison's one-month term easily took the cake.
They knew he died of pneumonia, but they didn't know his death was, in a sense, caused by his inauguration speech. He caught pneumonia after talking for 1 1/2 hours on a freezing cold night, teacher Heidi Zilles said.
That fact might become more real to eight of Zilles' gifted and talented education students who are headed to Washington, D.C., on Sunday for the inauguration of Barack Obama. The high on Tuesday is forecast at 30 degrees, two degrees colder than freezing.
"I got a big sweater," Kohl Velado, 9, said.
The GATE class of 17 students played a game of Jeopardy to test their presidential knowledge on the final school day before the trip to the nation's capital.
The students have been planning their trip since the beginning of the school year, Zilles said. Fourth and fifth graders were eligible to go, and the families had to come up with $1,300 per student to participate. That was less than it might have been without some fundraisers the school did, she said.
Zilles came up with the inaugural trip as an alternative to the normal GATE field trips, but she never expected her administrators would approve it.
Once they did, Zilles began in September teaching her students about the political process.
"I was surprised by how little they really knew," she said.
That has changed with four months of studying, and the students have embraced the knowledge more than she expected. Now, the students easily spout off random facts about the presidents and the process.
They've been playing presidential Jeopardy and political Jeopardy much of the year and have learned quite a bit from it, students said.
As each question came up, a designated person from each team tried to be the first to hit the button on their wireless buzzers, and multiple teammates often yelled the answers out together.
"It gets fun once you get better at it," Marshall Peterson, 9, said. "There's a lot of competition."
Alexander Gibson, 10, said his favorite Jeopardy answer actually didn't have to do with the election at all.
The answer is James B. Gibson.
The question? "Who is my grandpa," Alexander said of Henderson's mayor.
Another project to teach the students about the political process was a school-wide election Nov. 3. Obama won by a pretty good margin, they said.
While in Washington, the eight students will have a chance to learn about some of the history by visiting monuments and museums.
They will have two full days and one partial day to explore before returning home Wednesday evening. The time will be spent on the inauguration and tours, including memorials, Union Station, the ghost town of Alexandria, Va., and the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
After they return, Zilles plans on having the students who attended the field trip do presentations for those who couldn't, so that everyone can share the knowledge and fun in some way, she said.
Frances Vanderploeg can be reached at 990-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.