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Teachers Turn Post-Election Tensions Into Learning Opportunities

Lee Hale

Since election week there have been reports of bullying and student anxiety at schools across the country. But some teachers are turning that tension into teaching opportunities.

Angela Solum teaches 4th grade at Mountain View Elementary in Salt Lake City. It’s a Title 1 school and 70% of the students are English language learners. She says last Wednesday was rough.


“It was pretty traumatic with a lot of kids," says Solum. But she immediately saw a silver lining.


“The fact that they are feeling some emotion, that’s good because they have some investment in our country," says Solum. “For how confusing it can be to teach government to 9 and 10 year olds, they’ve really taken a vested interest in learning more.


Heather Handy is used to talking about politics with her students. She teaches social studies to 7th and 8th graders at West Lake STEM, a Junior High in West Valley. But this election has made conversations in class extremely relevant.


“It’s provided a lot of really useful examples especially with checks and balances," says Handy. "Things a potential president might say versus what he actually has the power to do.”


“Teachers are always excited for an opportunity to have really authentic learning. Where the students can draw an obvious connection to what’s happening in their lives from the classroom," says Nicole Westenskow who teaches English as a second languge at West Lake STEM.


While her curriculum doesn’t typically revolve around politics, that’s what it’s been the past few weeks.


“The kids have had lots of questions that I didn’t have answers to," says Westenskow. "For example on Wednesday I had a lot students who wanted to know about immigration law. And what would happen if this happened or what would happen if that happened.”


So, they research the answers together. Sifting through news sources to find something credible.


Students have also been asking, how do you run for office? It might just be that 2016 has planted seeds for a generation of future politicians.

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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