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Inaugural Activities Designed To Cater to the Young and the Young at Heart

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As President Clinton took his oath of office last week, thousands of students both in Washington and around the country took an active role in the nation's quadrennial celebration of the peaceful transfer of power.

While most of the glitz and media attention were focused on the festivities in the capital, last week also saw what may be the start of a long-term trend toward school-based celebrations of the Presidential Inauguration.

Indeed, the apparent success of the efforts of a Tucson, Ariz.-based voter-education group suggests that organizers may have found the ideal way to interest young people in the political process--having a party.

The organization, known as the National Student/Parent Mock Election, sponsored Great American Inaugural Balls on a pilot basis at 77 sites nationwide. At least one was held in every state, said Gloria Kirshner, the organization's president.

The events enabled students across the country to mark the occasion by staging balls in school gymnasiums or other venues.

At Randolph (Minn.) High School, for example, students and their parents learned ballroom dancing before attending a ball that included a 25-piece orchestra.

A similar event for the Dade County, Fla., public schools featured a Calypso band, while ballgoers could practice their square dancing at an elementary school in Albuquerque, N.M.

Even a youth-correctional institution, the Indiana Girls' School in Indianapolis, and a Department of Defense Dependents' School in Frankfurt, Germany, held Inaugural festivities under the sponsorship of the voter group.

"We had more than 100 schools on a waiting list,'' Ms. Kirshner said. "What we are doing is celebrating democracy, not the triumph of one party over another.''

Thus, the organization offered a teachers' guide on the Presidency and a handbook of ideas for the events.

In October, the group had held a mock Presidential election, which Mr. Clinton won, with the participation of 5 million students and parents.

Making the Day Great

Another pilot ball on Jan. 20 was held in Portland, Ore., where 8th-grade students from Hosford Middle School gathered at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The event sparked intense student interest, organizers said, and drew coverage from three local television stations.

"They have been talking about the ball since the election,'' said Mary Reinhorn, a teacher who organized the event. "We watched the real Inauguration on TV in our classrooms during the day, then held ours. It made Inauguration Day so great.''

At Washington Elementary School in Fayetteville, Ark., the mock ball drew a total of 886 paid admissions, said Principal Kathy Meistrell. At 25 cents, the cost of admission was a bargain compared to the $125 it cost to attend an official Inaugural Ball in Washington.

The school's students researched past Inaugurals and interviewed many friends of the President and Hillary Clinton, Ms. Meistrell said.

And just like the Presidential Inaugural, the Fayetteville event attracted many sponsors from the business community, with local firms donating a disc jockey, soft drinks, ice, and a large-screen television so the partygoers could follow the activity in Washington.

'Were You Little?'

Back in Washington, meanwhile, the man who was soon to become the 42nd President of the United States was submitting to some pointed questioning from a well-known television personality.

"Were you little at one time?'' asked Fred Rogers, the star of public television's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,'' in reading a child's question to Mr. Clinton during an Inaugural show for children on Jan. 19.

Mr. Clinton answered that he had indeed once been a child, adding that he was born a bit premature, weighing in at 6 1/2 pounds.

The show was one of a number of events focusing on children and teenagers during the hectic Inauguration week in the capital.

At the "Salute to Children,'' held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mr. Clinton also explained how his grandparents had taught him to count using flashcards. He still has his boyhood Dick and Jane reader, he added.

"I know that television offers a lot--no offense,'' he said to the soft-spoken Mr. Rogers, whose children's show will mark its 25th anniversary next month. "But I still think reading is very important.''

Mr. Clinton described how he learned to overcome anger by counting to 10 and thinking it over. He said he could not remember if he always wanted to be President, but he recalls that he always wanted to be involved in public service.

The one-hour children's salute and a similar show for a slightly older crowd were televised live last week by the pay-cable Disney Channel, which unscrambled its signal for the occasion.

The shows were conceived by Mrs. Clinton as a replacement for the traditional salute to the First Lady that has been held as part of the Inauguration festivities, officials said.

Other events for young people during the week included policy conferences, unofficial balls, and the customary participation of dozens of high school bands and choral groups in the parade and other entertainment activities.

Bus Rides and Bells

The first major event of the Inaugural--Mr. Clinton's visit to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home in Charlottesville, Va.--included a discussion with eight Washington-area children about Mr. Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.

At that event, Mr. Clinton told the young people that if Mr. Jefferson were alive today, he would appoint him Secretary of Education.

The youths accompanied Mr. Clinton and his entourage on a Jan. 17 bus motorcade from Charlottesville to Washington.

Later, Mr. Clinton led children from the Lincoln Memorial, the site of a two-hour entertainment gala, across a bridge to Virginia for a ceremonial bell ringing to inspire hope across the nation.

The serious tone continued at a Jan. 19 youth town meeting in the capital involving some 3,200 high school students. The meeting was sponsored by the Close Up Foundation, a nonprofit civic-education organization that helps bring thousands of young people to the capital to study the workings of government.

Panelists scheduled to participate in the event included Eli Segal, a campaign aide to Mr. Clinton who is now a White House aide in charge of the office of national service; U.S. Reps. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and Keith B. Geiger, the president of the National Education Association.

The students held their own ball that evening.

Meanwhile, another group of 500 high school students participated in a youth conference sponsored by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, another civic-education group.

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