In an elementary school in Covington, Ky., kindergarten students will write congratulatory letters to the new president. And in Detroit, young students will dance and dine with teachers and parents at an inaugural ball of their own.
The inauguration of America’s first African-American president has captured the imagination of students and educators with an intensity that surpasses previous ceremonies, and schools from New Hampshire to Florida to California are working to bring the excitement and pageantry, the sheer history of it all, to life in the classroom.
After millions of students watch Barack Obama take the presidential oath on television, some will recite poetry, many will hear brass bands play patriotic music and not a few will debate whether Mr. Obama’s oratory equaled the eloquence of John F. Kennedy.
“We are totally committed to reading, writing, science and history,” said Linda Lane, deputy superintendent of instruction in Pittsburgh. “But we also know that some history doesn’t come out of a book. Some history you get to be part of.”
Karen Rusche, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic school in Cincinnati, decided that the inaugural was of such historic import that her eighth graders would interrupt a spiritual retreat to watch it on TV.
“We don’t want to see it on a rerun,” Ms. Rusche said. “We want to be witnesses to the historical moment.”
Students from hundreds of schools across the nation are heading to Washington to participate in the inauguration. But thousands of students in Oakland, Calif., and the surrounding communities will get their own close-up view of the celebration. They will ride buses at dawn to the Oracle Arena, an auditorium adjacent to the Oakland Raiders’ home field, to watch the inauguration on a stadium-size screen, said Miguel Dwin, a school board trustee in Emeryville, Calif.
Educators in Chicago, Mr. Obama’s hometown, may be among the most enthusiastic.
Like many school districts nationwide, Chicago produced a lengthy guide to help teachers tailor instruction to the inauguration, with suggestions for essay themes, debate topics and letter-writing. Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools chief whom Mr. Obama has nominated to be secretary of education, sent a memorandum introducing the guide to the city’s teachers.
“Barack Obama has captivated Chicago students’ interest in democracy,” he said. “As educators, we cannot let this teaching opportunity pass us by.”
Not all students, of course, interpret the significance of Mr. Obama’s election in the same way. At Malcolm Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, Calif., Elisa Slee had her first graders write letters to Mr. Obama and essays describing what they would do if they were president.
Ms. Slee said that one girl wrote, “I would put a soccer field in my bedroom.”
Another wrote, “I would immediately eat ice cream.”
Students in Washington have front seats on the festivities. Schools in the District of Columbia traditionally close on Inauguration Day, partly because busing becomes untenable as out-of-towners snarl traffic. But in a sign that schools are bubbling with more enthusiasm for this inaugural, a dozen districts in northern Virginia, Maryland and southern New Jersey, including in Baltimore and Camden, N.J., have also decided to close.
In Montgomery County, Md., north of Washington, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast recommended staying open on Tuesday. But after thousands of people signed an online petition on Facebook urging an inaugural holiday, the school board voted unanimously to close.
Christopher Barclay, an African-American member of Montgomery’s school board, said he had sponsored the resolution because this year’s inaugural had incredible significance. “Some people said, ‘You could just use the day to teach,’ ” Mr. Barclay said. “Yes, but we could also take the day off and let people participate.”
The Philadelphia schools superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, decided to stay open after a debate with members of her staff, half of whom thought schools should close, she said.
“In the end, we came down for keeping schools open because it’s a teachable moment, and not all parents have access to quality day care,” she said. “And schools can make this historic event an experience they’ll never forget.”
Not all schools and districts are taking special notice. In rural Waynoka, Okla., a state that voted heavily for Mr. Obama’s presidential rival, Senator John McCain, for instance, Schools Superintendent Dale Ross said that he had heard few expressions of interest in the inauguration.
Stacy Haskins, a civics teacher at Waynoka’s lone school, which has 250 students, from kindergarten to high school, said, “We may just watch a few clips of it and then move on.”
Kriner Cash, the superintendent in Memphis, where 86 percent of students are black, sent a memorandum last week encouraging teachers to incorporate the ceremony into their instruction. But suburban districts around Memphis, Mr. Cash said, have been quiet on the issue.
“I don’t like to speculate,” he said, “but I think it’s because it is a partisan issue for parents. They didn’t win. But I say, ‘Get over it.’ ”
Still, even in areas like Orange County, Calif., which tend to vote Republican and where many students wore McCain T-shirts to school during the campaign, inaugural enthusiasm has bubbled forth.
“Partisanship, that’s over,” said Martha McIntosh, chairwoman of the social sciences department at Dana Hills High School. “All my little McCain-ites are excited about the inauguration.”
And so are many students who often seem to find everything about school boring. At the Dobie Middle School in Austin, Jason Hayes, who teaches history, said it had been easier to engage his students during the election season.
“Even the so-called hardcore gangster kids actually do know what’s going on and are interested in presidential politics,” Mr. Hayes said. “It’s been great for me. Not a lot of students usually are interested in history.”
Rebecca Cathcart contributed reporting from Los Angeles, Bob Driehaus from Cincinnati, Sean Hamill from Pittsburgh, Gretel C. Kovach from Dallas, and Katie Zezima from Boston.