The crowds have left the Decatur Recreation Center, and the camera crews are dismantling their equipment. The President is en route to Dobbins.
So, what was today about? Was it a photo op with which to promote the President’s new pre-k proposal?
Yes, but did Obama learn anything useful?
After the speech, I chatted with the Decatur pre-k teacher who was with Obama today at the College Heights Early Learning Center. Mary McMahon also introduced Obama at the Decatur Recreation Center.
A pre-k intervention teacher, McMahon is College Heights’ Teacher of the Year and spent time with President Obama in the pre-k classroom of teacher Lauren Parks.
Was this all for show, I asked her, or did the President learn something new?
McMahon felt that Obama learned something from the inclusive model that Decatur uses in its pre-k. She said that Decatur is unique in that its program has a mix of family incomes, and it includes children with special needs in its classes.
She also felt the President Obama realized that an effective pre-k classroom has to offer lots of hands-on activities for children rather than worksheets and that requires adequate staffing.
“He did see that you need bodies. You can’t just throw 20 kids in a classroom,” said McMahon.
Pre-k programs must maintain reasonable teacher-pupil ratios to conduct the hands-on activities that are critical to early learning, she said.
Decatur pre-k classes were out this week as the system is on winter break. But the lure of meeting the President was powerful; one parent flew back early from Disney World so her child could attend the special day of classes. Out of 20 students in the class that Obama visited, 16 showed up today, said McMahon.
(Please note that the Head Start program that operates out of College Heights was open this week. it was the pre-k part of the building that was closed for Decatur City Schools winter break.)
McMahon said all the 3- and 4-year-olds at College Heights saw the President as he joined them for community circle time where they sang him a song. And all of the College Heights staff also saw him.
Parents, who had to go through metal detectors today to drop off their children this morning, could not hang around to see the President.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog