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East County Wednesday, Sep. 9, 2009 13 years ago

Obama addresses East County classrooms

by: Pam McTeer

MANATEE COUNTY — After a week of controversy, President Barack Obama’s back-to-school speech played smoothly in East County classrooms Monday.

Obama urged students to take personal responsibility for their education and work hard during a noon speech Sept. 8 at Wakefield High School in Virginia. The speech was broadcast live on C-Span and shown to students throughout the country.

Manatee County Public Schools showed the speech throughout the day Tuesday, with East County high schools Lakewood Ranch and Braden River delaying the presentation until after lunch, and many elementary schools opting to show the clip at 2:30, before dismissal.

The district elected to show the speech and to give parents the option to remove their children from the classroom.

“The district wanted us to have it available for the kids,” Braden River High School’s Assistant Principal Don French said. “It’s their country. We talk to them all the time about choices.”

The speech had been a subject of controversy for the last week after some parents feared the president would use the speech to promote his political agenda. The uproar began after the Department of Education released lesson plans that suggested students write letters about how they could “help the president.”

The White House later changed the wording to read “write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.”

More than 90 students from Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools were excused from watching the program.

In his speech, Obama welcomed students into the new school year, starting with examples from his own childhood when his mother would wake him at 4:30 a.m. to teach him before work.

“A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table,” Obama said. “But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, ‘This is no picnic for me either, buster.’”

The president said teachers, parents and the government are working hard to ensure each child gets a quality education, but students ultimately hold their future in their own hands.

“But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents and the best schools in the world, and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibility,” Obama said. “… Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. You have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity education can provide.”

The country’s future depends on whether the nation’s youth will rise up, using the critical thinking and other skills they learned in the classroom to make a difference with their lives, Obama said. If students do not develop their talents and skills, they are not only quitting on themselves, they are quitting on their country, he said.

Students at Braden River High School said they were inspired by the speech, which lasted about 15 minutes.

“I thought it was moving,” said 17-year-old Olivia Thomas, who watched the presentation while in her government class. “You have to work hard and put in everything you can. … We are the future of America, regardless of what happens.”

Darryl Mathis, 17, agreed.

“It was something we needed to hear,” he said. “Some kids don’t have parents at home to push them along. And this gave them that strength to push on.”

In addition to the speech, the White House made lesson plans based on the speech available to teachers of all grade levels.

To read the prepared text of the president’s speech, visit

Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].

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