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Before she left for work on Wednesday, Riley Elementary School teacher Christi Paulson said she had a bad feeling about how her students would be responding to President-elect Donald Trump.

The school is located on Salt Lake City's diverse west side and home to many languages, ethnicities and countries of origin.

"They're really worried about the [border] wall," Paulson said, referring to one of Trump's signature campaign pledges, "and about friends and parents and people getting sent away."

In her second-grade classroom, Paulson has two cups on a counter that feature a smiling, winking face with big thumbs up and a sad face with eyes on the cusp of tears.

Each day students place a stick labeled with their name in one of the two cups, which allows Paulson to check in privately with students who are distressed.

Paulson said its rare to see a stick in the "bad day" cup, and rarer still for there to be multiple students opting for the frowny face.

That made Wednesday unprecedented when she saw that all but four students had placed their sticks in the "bad day" cup.

"It's not typical at all," she said. "They were all really agitated."

Like many Americans, Utah's children woke up on Wednesday with lingering questions and concerns from the end of the 2016 campaign, when Trump shocked the nation with an upset victory over Hillary Clinton.

Reports of school absenteeism filled social media, and district administrators distributed reminders that they support children who are shaken up over the election.

"Today will be filled with many teachable moments," Salt Lake City School District Superintendent Alexa Cunningham wrote to her principals. "Your students trust you and will listen to what you have to say. Take time to listen."

Paulson responded to her student's angst by inviting them to write about their feelings in private journals and playing a clip of President Barack Obama responding to the election results.

"A couple of them said that watching President Obama made them feel better," she said.

In Granite School District, spokesman Ben Horsley said schools had seen a slight decline in attendance Wednesday, and that the district had received reports of students being harassed over Trump's victory.

"We're obviously trying to be sensitive," he said. "We don't want any child to feel unsafe for any reason in our schools."

Wednesday afternoon, a group of roughly 40 high school students staged a sit-in at the Utah Capitol.

West High School senior Samantha Kelsey, one of the organizers of the event, said she arrived at school on Wednesday to find many of her peers feeling "downtrodden".

She said her friends thought it was important to show their support for one another, and demonstrate their commitment to American politics.

"We're the women, we're the minorities, we're the LGBT community," she said. "We have family and friends who are immigrants, undocumented, and we are part of this country and we want to show that we care."

West High School senior Isa Kluger said she was initially in denial when Trump began pulling ahead of Clinton in the Electoral College totals.

It was scary, she said, because her friends are part of the specific minority groups that Trump targeted during his campaign.

"I didn't think that Trump would actually win the presidency," she said. "When he did, I was very afraid."

Riley Elementary principal James Martin said students, like adults, feel a natural need to discuss and process major events like the election.

He said teachers and administrators strive to remain neutral, but can also provide information about democracy and the electoral system in the United States.

"We're all kind of in the same boat of not knowing exactly what to do," he said. "Kids are feeling the effects of the election — just a lot of uncertainty and fear."

Paulson said it's difficult for students who feel marginalized by campaign promises of mass deportations and a wall dividing the United States from its neighboring countries.

"It's really hard to teach the kids to be respectful when they are watching someone in that position not being respectful and being hateful," she said. "That is what really got them so upset."

Twitter: @bjaminwood