Students Have Questions for Some Austin Teachers After the Presidential Election

Nov 10, 2016

Jessica Foulke teaches seventh grade social studies at a North Austin charter school. She says her students started texting her early on Election Night as the results came in. Many of them were worried because Hillary Clinton was losing.

“Early on, I was like, 'Calm down,'" Foulke said. "There’s only a few electoral votes coming in. We have the wait until the whole evening. And, as it progressed and it started to be a real reality, it was more of a 'Everything is going to be okay,' and, you know, just trying to comfort in that moment. Because there was not much else I could do, and I think a lot of adults are reeling with the news and there’s a lot of upset adults today.”

Nearly all the students at this school are Hispanic and come from families in poverty. Foulke says many of them have undocumented family members and they’re afraid.

"The things that were said throughout the campaign have really affected them and affected what they believe about what could happen," she said.

Before school started, Principal Taylor Nichols spoke to the entire school about the election. He wanted to be clear about the results, remind students to be sensitive to people's reactions to those results, and remind students of the voting process. 

"Okay, this happened. It is what it is. I don’t know what you all think of it...This is how these things play out, regardless of what you think," Nichols said. "And if there’s anything you take from today is that this process matters."

Foulke’s class has been learning about American politics all year: checks and balances, the three branches of government.  As she drove to work Wednesday morning, she thought about what to say to students.

Jessica Foulke works with students after school in her classroom the day following the Presidential election.
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News

“I made a big poster of the things I still believe today," Foulke said. "Some things are related to principles of Constitution and limited government. And some of them are other things like me and my colleagues will do anything to protect these kids and that we love them and that we need to be kind to each other.”

She had students do the same as part of a community circle where they could ask questions and talk about what they were thinking and feeling. They put those feelings onto post-it notes, and hung them in the hallway outside her classroom:

  • I still believe in checks and balances.
  • I still believe in limited government and that my mom won’t get deported.
  • I still believe that we will be safe.
  • I still believe that I will succeed.
  • I still believe that education is the key to everything.
  • I still believe that people can still fight to make this country great without racism.
  • I still believe my family won’t live in poverty in Mexico and I still believe I’ll go to college someday.
  • I still believe God will help families with immigrants.

"Some of them did ones that were less positive," Foulke said. "There are kids that could not find the hope in today, but a lot of them could. Most of them could.”

Foulke says unbiased education about American government is needed now more than ever, and part of that is teaching her students to have empathy for Donald Trump supporters.

Following the presidential election, Foulke asked students in her classes to write their hopes for the future.
Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

“The reality is it’s half the country, and, so, trying to help them to understand that things are more complicated than just, 'These people who voted for Donald Trump are racist’ – that’s what they like to say a lot – and it’s just more complicated than that,” Foulke said "And it’s going to be really important to me that I help them understand that. Because the reality is it’s President Trump in two months and, so, they need to learn to understand a little bit more of the nuance.”

During the school’s mock election on Tuesday, 85 percent of students at this school voted for Hillary Clinton. When Principal Nichols got to school Wednesday morning, he took the results down.

"I wanted to make sure there was no confusion about what exactly happened," he said.