Principal Mark Larson got to Lincoln High School the day after a divisive, difficult presidential election planning to do his regular morning announcements over the intercom.
Before long, he changed his mind. It was clear, he said, things were different Wednesday morning.
“When students began to enter the building there was a palpable tension, a palpable anxiety in the air,” he said. “You could feel it. Students were raw yesterday, emotionally. More than any other day that I can remember in my career.”
At the state’s most diverse high school, where students come from 50 countries and speak 34 languages, they were looking to adults for answers.
What does the election -- one where the candidate elected president built his campaign on building a wall on the Mexican border, deporting all undocumented immigrants and banning Muslim immigrants -- mean for them?
Larson already had sent staff a message encouraging them to stress to students that school was a safe place for all of them. After feeling the tension in the building, he decided to do more.
He shut his office door, he thought about the conversations he’d had with students and looked out the window at the statue of Lincoln High’s mascot: the Links.
A short time later, he got on the intercom for the daily announcements -- about lunch and clubs and upcoming events -- and then he continued.
“I know there are many of us who are thinking about the results of the election last night,” he said. “I feel compelled to speak on that for a moment. You go to a place that since 1871 has had a history of being one of the most loving, welcoming and accepting places in our city. That does not change today.”
He talked about what the mascot -- the Links -- represented: tradition, excellence, diversity and unity. He told students how proud the school was of that diversity and unity, of a place where everyone feels safe and welcome.
Upstairs, in Susan Hertzler’s class of English Language Learners, it was quiet. Some students cried. Larson’s message was a place to start, to let students ask questions, express their worries. Would they have to leave? When?
Hertzler said she was honest: that she didn’t know, but that there were people -- not just here but nationally -- who supported them.
At Culler Middle School, Dr. Chandra Diaz-Debose said the atmosphere was somber. Students showed up to her class early, and they came to her at lunch with similar questions.
“I felt like I had to give them an avenue to speak,” she said.
At Belmont Elementary, a first-grade student in Laurie Martinez's English Language Learner class raised her hand.
“How soon am I going to have to go back?” she asked.
Martinez said she was not prepared for first-graders to be worried about the election.
"I was naive,"she said.
She told them there were lots of people in the country that wanted to protect them, that they should be worrying about what to have for lunch, who they should sit next to, maybe what they’d do when they got home.
“Those are the concerns first-graders should have, not going back to the country they came from,” she said. “You know that saying, ‘You could hear a pin drop?’ Well, you could yesterday.”
She pulled two long tables together, had all the students sit together. She read a story. They talked.
East High media specialist Jane Raglin Holt said library staff had deep conversations with several students. Some needed comfort, others clarification. There were impromptu civic lessons on the three branches of government, of the checks and balances, the importance of voting, the legitimacy of the electoral process.
“School was really difficult yesterday, for kids and adults alike,” she said. “Lot of folks, I suspect, thought about not coming, myself included. But when I got there and saw the kids that I get to see every morning before school, I knew how important it was for all of us to be there. It was a quiet, strange, tiptoeing-around kind of morning.”
Incidents popped up on social media Thursday: a 15-year-old Asian American student in Lincoln who told his mom someone yelled “You don’t belong here” as he walked home from school.
Another Lincoln high school student called a “dirty Mexican.”
Across the district, teachers and counselors countered the divisiveness of the election by stressing that school was a caring, accepting place where people show concern for each other, said Brenda Leggiadro, the district’s counseling coordinator.
There was a full range of emotion at schools, students who supported both candidates, those excited by the results, those worried and anxious. Many students were just curious -- what all the talk of change really meant, she said.
“We had some reminders about how this is a great time to think about how we can be good winners and good losers, to disagree and be respectful.”
Oscar Rios Pohirieth, LPS cultural specialist who works with the district’s 23 bilingual liaisons, said he tried to help students focus on remaining productive and proactive, despite the uncertainty. While the election created uncertainty, so do many other life events, he said.
The message, he said, was part of the work the district has been doing -- unrelated to the election -- to devise ways to help students who suffer such "cultural anxiety."
At Lincoln High, Larson asked five students to read a part of his announcement in five different languages.
"Let Lincoln High be an example to our city and our nation how to respect and care for one another. You are a Link. We are all Links. Unity."