Heritage Community Builds Classroom Discussions Following Capitol Riots

Pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol building in Washington D.C. on January 6th. The violence and confusion came as Congress counted electoral votes to confirm the results of the presidential election. Photo credit: Hailey Sloan

On Wednesday, January 6, the Heritage community watched alongside the entire nation as the Capitol building in Washington D.C. was violently stormed. Congress members were counting the electoral votes and confirming Joe Biden as the next President of the United States when the protesters forced their way into the Capitol.

Social Studies teacher Mr. Jay Grenawalt had just released his class for lunch and was tuning in to watch the process when the riots began.

“Usually that vote is very low key, no one pays much attention to it,” Grenawalt said. “But this time I knew there were going to be some people challenging the certification, and so I turned it on. 

“Little did I know I was going to be witnessing history unfold as that rally turned into a riot,” Grenawalt said.

“My initial reaction was just a total paralysis of my brain, to be perfectly honest,” said Arwyn Travis ’22.

Travis, who had been recording part of an audition for this year’s spring musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, described the overwhelming change in atmosphere as she learned about the developments at the Capitol.

“It was a crazy juxtaposition of moods to go from laughing and moving around to music, to suddenly feeling speechless and shocked,” Travis explained. “I didn’t understand everything that was going on at the beginning, and it took me a while to wrap my head around it all, but I did know from the very start that something very serious and impactful had taken place.”

Mr. Andy Ambron had recently finished a class and was heading back to the English department when he overheard the first news reports of the riots on another teacher’s computer.

“I went over to check it out and I could see that the protesters had already moved on to the steps of the Capitol; they had made it past the barricade and had even made their way inside the Capitol,” Ambron recalled.

“My immediate thought was just general concern and confusion,” he continued. “The idea of a Capitol building anywhere in the world getting stormed and taken over like that is definitely highly concerning, and there’s a huge potential for violence, harm and even loss of life.”

Confusion continued as the riots carried on, and without strong facts, teachers and students alike were hesitant to discuss the events.

“I myself wasn’t really too certain what was totally happening and my thoughts about it, so I avoided talking about it on that day with those students, and no one brought it up,” Ambron explained.

“By the time that next class started, the events at the Capitol were still ongoing,” he continued. “It didn’t seem like there was an endpoint, nor did I have a ton of facts about what was happening, what goals the protesters might have had, or any type of report on who or what might have been injured.”

In response to the riots in D.C., Littleton Public Schools sent an email to staff members with helpful information and resources to guide class conversations surrounding the events. The email included a help sheet with suggestions such as “Monitor or restrict exposure,” “Stick to the facts,” “Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate,” and much more. Additionally, there were links to additional resources such as the National Association of School Psychologists and All Sides for Schools, a nonprofit designed to help students participate thoughtfully in democracy.

Nonetheless, navigating classroom conversations surrounding current events remains a challenging task for teachers. 

“It’s so easy to let your own opinions take over,” Grenawalt said, “and occasionally I will let out my own opinions if I have some really strong feelings. But overall I do look for ways to incorporate both sides.”

“We were watching something potentially incredibly violent unfolding, so I tried to emphasize that, but I also tried to figure out maybe where the origins of that group came from, if the president had any responsibility,” Grenawalt continued. “Mostly I tried to emphasize the peaceful transition of power. America has always had that tradition, and to lose it, to blame the other side for your loss, and to whip up this hysteria is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

As more information became available in the days following the riots, in-class discussions began cropping up surrounding the events.

“Two of my class periods were largely devoted to discussion, for which I was very grateful,” Travis said.

“These class discussions are infinitely valuable, in my opinion,” she continued. “Not only were some of the people in my classes hearing about this for the first time in class, but it was overall a great experience—and a relief—to be able to discuss this with my own age group. You see a lot of perspectives on social media, but it’s a step up to actually be able to speak and listen to people’s voices.”

Travis reported that the behavior she saw was very respectful and that teachers were able to let their students speak while also maintaining order in the classroom.

“The tone was actually quite open and it was also very serious, which allowed people to really think deeply about what their feelings were and share with the class,” she said.

Overall, Travis was pleased with how classroom conversations went concerning the Capitol riots and the surrounding issues; however, she still felt that improvements could be made.

“One thing that I realized which was negative about these discussions was that the people who may have been more on the conservative side of things were very much being squashed out and not allowed as much of a chance to speak because the majority of my peers are also liberals, and were very solidly against what took place,” Travis explained. 

In the future, Travis hopes the Heritage community can continue to build a place where all sides of a story are heard and students feel that their opinions are respected.

“I believe that if we were all more in the habit of taking part in these conversations, there would be much more of a ‘safe-space’ sort of attitude towards these controversial subjects, and people might not be afraid to raise their voices even if they are going against the current,” she said.

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