Few students opt out of watching Obama speech

The 16 seventh-graders in Amy DeVane’s language arts class at Miller Middle School seemed to get the message President Obama delivered Tuesday.

Miller Middle showed students a video of the president’s speech about working hard in school in each of their classrooms and the school media center, with no signs of the controversy that has surrounded the speech in recent days.

Miller Middle officials said no parents asked for their children to be removed from class while the speech, which Obama delivered live to Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., was being aired.

“The students look up to (Obama), and I think that’s what benefits them the most,” said Jon Smith, an assistant principal at Miller. “I think it’s a good message for students to set goals and work toward them.”

Elsewhere in Middle Georgia, some students opted not to watch the address from Obama.

Students of Banks Stephens Middle School in Monroe County received letters Friday to let parents know they would be watching the speech in school. Those who chose not to watch had time for instructional activities during the address, principal Mike Hickman said.

About 4.8 percent of the school’s approximately 450 students opted not to watch the speech, Hickman said, which was streamed to classrooms. Overall, it was well-received.

“We were ready for anything to happen,” Hickman said. “The kids were fine, the staff was fine. Everything was OK.”

In Houston County, parents received an automated phone call over the weekend from the superintendent, letting them know that the presidential address would be shown the last half hour of the school day Tuesday, said Beth McLaughlin, the school system’s director of community and school affairs. Parents who chose to not have their children watch the address were instructed to send a note with students.

Out of 806 students enrolled at Huntington Middle School in Warner Robins, 18 opted out of watching the address, McLaughlin said. During this time, those students had supervised time to study.

Peach County schools community/parent coordinator Sara Mason said she was not aware of any problems among students or parents in the system. Students watched the broadcast during the day, she said, and school media centers taped the event so it would be available to classes later.

“I’ve not heard any negative feedback whatsoever,” Mason said. “It was made available to them and will be available to teachers from the media center.”

But some Georgia school districts, such as Forsyth County, didn’t air the speech, avoiding controversy that bubbled up when Republicans accused Obama of trying to politically brainwash their children. And some parents, such as Mollie Cushing of Marietta, said they don’t want their children to listen to the speech because they don’t think the president is doing a particularly good job.

In DeVane’s class at Macon’s Miller Middle School, some of the students sat upright through the bulk of the speech while others leaned their heads on their desks.

But all of them had reactions to various points in the speech, in which Obama gave examples of his own childhood and urged children to listen to their teachers and work to achieve the goals they set for themselves.

“I liked how he was telling us to set goals,” said Ashleigh Reynolds, a 12-year-old. “Someone who goes to school becomes something.”

“I thought it was inspiring,” added 12-year-old Xavier Blach. “He was telling kids they can be anything they can (be).”

Certain portions of the speech drew particular attention from the students, such as Obama describing growing up without a father or when his mother made him wake up at 4 a.m. when the family lived in Indonesia so he could be home-schooled by his mother.

At one point, Obama told the students that he sometimes got into trouble as a youth. He also told the students not to be afraid to ask for help if there is a subject they’re having difficulty with.

“He said to never give up,” said Caled Vincent, 12. “Do your goals. If you do something wrong, try the next time to make it right.”

Coleman Dumas, his classmate, added, “Stay in school and learn from your mistakes.”

Most of the kids in the classroom perked up when asked about their own goals. Virtually all of them said they wanted to attend college. Some had career paths in mind, ranging from being a singer to being a veterinarian.

“I thought very highly of the speech,” DeVane said. “It stressed the importance of taking responsibility for your education. It was highly motivating for our students, who look upon (Obama) as a role model.”

DeVane said the personal stories Obama shared during the speech helped make it resonate with the students.

Bibb County officials said they received some calls last week about the speech.

“We had a handful of calls come up to our level,” said Suzanne Spaid, director of Teaching and Learning for Bibb County. “Some of the calls just wanted information, some made sure we were going to show the speech, and some didn’t want us to show it. (The calls) went all ways.”

The Bibb school system didn’t mandate that the schools show the speeches but encouraged them to, Spaid said.

Spaid and Bibb County school system spokesman Chris Floore said they weren’t aware of any students who were pulled out of school because of the speech, but they said they hadn’t spoken to every school in the system.

“I thought the speech was exciting,” Spaid said. “It reinforces everything we tell the kids about what is important.”

Telegraph staff writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press.