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Basss website contest helps send six to Washington


For seven residents of the 37th Congressional District, history became a living, breathing entity thanks to their unique opportunity to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Teacher William Pulgarin and his student Karla Espinoza and Wanda Sanders and her son Mark won tickets in the seated section of the event in a contest sponsored by Congresswoman Karen Bass ( D-Calif.), and for each the occasion was an amazing once-in-a-life time opportunity.

“I’m 80 now. It means a lot to me to see two of the greatest presidents the United States has ever had. That’s the way I feel about Obama,” said Sanders, whose essay recalls the opportunity she had as a small child in Flint, Mich., to see Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“I was about 4 years old, when he came to our town for a parade. My father put me on his shoulders to see him (Roosevelt),” said Sanders who actually worked Obama’s campaign in 2008, but was unable to attend the first inauguration.

“It was just a rainbow of colors–Hispanics, Asians, Whites, Blacks . . . We worked at headquarters, and there were only five or six Blacks there. Everyone else was from other groups. And every time he won a state, everybody would spontaneously hug and jump up and down. It was so beautiful. And then practically the next day I heard all the hate talk on the radio. It was such a come-down. I was feeling that finally America has reached the promised land that King talked about,” but when she heard the radio shows, “it was like no, I guess we really haven’t.”

Pulgarin, a history teacher at Bright Star Secondary Academy on West 98th Street in Los Angeles, was teaching his students about education policy when he discovered the contest on the congresswoman’s web.

“I started to tell them about the contest and they said they wanted to give it a shot.”

Pulgarin also told his students that if they won, he would take one of the young people on the trip with him. But he wasn’t’really banking on winning, because he knew there were thousands of entries.

But he used the opportunity and an educational experience, and he and his students created a video on what they wanted to see happen with education policy in the next four years.

To his absolute shock the Bright Star project won.

“Right away, I called my boss and said ‘you’ll never believe this. We won two tickets to presidential inauguration. She was more excited than I was, maybe because she understood the implications of what it would mean to have a student go and see that. She called her boss, the head of the school, and everybody was just super excited.”

The school officials were so excited, that they proposed paying for three additional young people to take the journey as well.

In Washington, Pulgarin, the students, Williams and her son Mark had an opportunity to meet and have lunch with Congresswoman Bass.

“She talked about her experience being able to get to Capitol Hill, and it’s like I could have never taught this. This is the best lesson I’ve ever done, and I had nothing to do with it,” recalled Pulgarin with a laugh.

What helped the two groups win tickets were their thoughts on what they expected in the next four years.
Pulgarin confined his thoughts to educational policy.

“I really hope that there will be serious discussion about retaining the top teachers in the profession and rewarding the top teacher in the profession . . . we need to weed out the people who do not belong in the profession who are not as passionate about it.”

Williams’ expectations are simple: “I just expect him to continue to do his best.,” said the octogenarian, who said that while she does not always agree with President Obama’s decisions, she trusts his intelligence and decency.

Kianna Shann contributed to this story.