Much of Obama’s 16 minute speech in Decatur today echoed what he said in his State of the Union address on the importance of early childhood education.
He praised the City of Decatur Schools early childhood program, which he visited this morning. “I want to thank all the teachers and the parents and the administrators of Decatur City Schools, because behind every child who is doing great there is a great teacher, and I’m proud of every single one of you for the work that you do here today,” he said.
At Decatur’s College Heights Early Learning Center, the President said he built towers with the kids and learned patterns. And he sang songs. He applauded the school’s inclusion model.
“And, look, I’ve got to admit, I was not always the fastest guy on some of this stuff,” President Obama said. “The kids were beating me to the punch. But through this interactive learning, they’re learning math, writing, how to tell stories.”
He thanked Decatur teacher Mary McMahon for his introduction and for “teaching me how to count earlier today.”
Obama talked about the struggles that he and his wife Michelle had in finding affordable preschool, noting, “The size of your paycheck shouldn’t determine your child’s future.”
“We are not doing enough to give all of our kids that chance. The kids we saw today that I had a chance to spend time with in Mary’s classroom, they’re some of the lucky ones — because fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program,” he said. “This is not babysitting.”
He also joked that all that early childhood investment leads children to grow and up and leave, kidding that his girls are now more interested in sleepovers and dates than in him.
He joked with the crowd, too, about spending Valentine’s day in Decatur with the press. Michelle, he said, made him promise to be back home tonight in time for their date. “That’s important,” he said.
But the president was serious about the need to expand pre-k nationwide. Fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. he said.
And it is out of reach for the poor kids who need help the most. “These are the citizens who are going to write that next great chapter in America’s future,” Obama said.
Here is my earlier live blog.
1:25: President Obama is being introduced by College Heights teacher Mary McMahon. “What a day. Obviously this is huge, I just talked to the president,” she said. “I hope he had as much fun as we did. We had a blast.
President Obama entered the Decatur Recreation Center to applause so resounding that Gov. Deal – who skipped the gala — may have heard it even six miles away in the Gold Dome. (State school chief John Barge was not on hand; he was not invited, according to the DOE spokesman. That is disappointing to hear.)
The 600 or so people jammed into the Decatur Recreation Center in downtown Decatur are clearly fans. The applause just kept coming. Folks were on their feet a full 30 minutes before he arrived, including 65 Decatur teachers positioned on the risers behind the president. (Not a day for bad knees.)
Preceding him into the gym were U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia pre-k Commissioner Bobby Cagle, new DeKalb school chief Michael Thurmond and a host of other big shots from state and local governments.
1:20: The Decatur Board of Education hastily left the rec center presumably to greet President Obama as he arrives here from College Heights. (Former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland just arrived.)
1:04: The President will be introduced by pre-k teacher Mary McMahon, Teacher of the Year for Decatur’s College Heights. She is an intervention specialist.
12:51: Now, we are listening to “Stand By Me,” an appropriate tune since the Decatur teachers are still standing on the risers waiting to be a backdrop for the President’s speech on education and early childhood programs. Most of the audience members are now on their feet, expecting the president to arrive any minute.
Saying the Pledge of Allegiance, led by my son’s connections class teacher in leadership this year, Sgt.Phyllis Primus.
And now, my daughter’s Renfroe Middle School chorus teacher is singing the National Anthem. Monica Nelson is having a baby very soon. She is doing a great job on this challenging song. (By the way, she is a Spelman grad) She just hit that high note. (My poor Becca tried to come down to see the President drive by but she was too late. Police had closed the streets and she could not enter downtown Decatur.)
12:46: So, at least 65 teachers are standing on those risers behind the President’s podium.. They will be standing a while as President Obama is not supposed to speak until 1:20. They have dozens of TV camera pointed at them. Lovely moment to see hardworking teachers get their moment in the sun. And they are having a blast with the attention. Also great to see the student press here. Teens with notebooks and cameras in hand.
12:44: Decatur City Schools teachers arrive to applause as they are led to stage to stand behind president. Katy Perry again on the speakers. “Baby, you’re a firework.” Just saw my children’s amazing social studies teacher Penny Ratliff as she passed to join her colleagues on stage. About 60 teachers crowded on the risers behind where Obama will speak. Lots of waving to the crowd.
12:35: So, I asked my AJC colleague Nancy Badertscher, seated next to me here at Decatur Recreation Center awaiting President Obama, if Gov. Nathan Deal was supposed to be here.
She emailed Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. His answer to whether the governor would be here with the President. “Nope.”
12:25: More lawmakers on hand. State Sens. Donzella James and Vincent Fort are in the house. Speakers now playing Van Halen’s “Jump.” Volume turned down a bit. Either that or the crowd is getting louder. (We are in a musical time warp with the choices playing right now but the old stuff works for me.)
12:20; President at College Heights. Apparently, he waved to the governor as he sped by the Gold Dome en route to Decatur. Crowd is loud and lively here at rec center. Packed house. Now, people are being directed to the new walking track above the gym floor. Best view in the house. But no seats.
Noon: Lawmakers showing up. Among them: State Sen. Steven Henson, D-Tucker, state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus.
11:47: President exited plane at 11:38. Probably take him 30 minutes to get to Decatur from Dobbins given that the traffic is parted.
Decatur teachers just found out that the White House wants them on stage to stand behind President at some point during his speech here at the rec center. Some of them have been pulled aside for the moment in front of the cameras. This is a surprise so I am sure some of them are wishing for a more comfortable pair of shoes.
Also found out that some teachers at the pre-k where Obama is headed now came back from vacation to lead their reconvened vacations. It was volunteer but teachers did not want to miss a visit to their school by President Obama. Apparently, most kids also returned today.
11:33 a.m.: The eagle has landed. The president’s plane is on the ground at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. He will soon be on route to College Heights early Childhood Learning Center where the school is eagerly awaiting him.
Back here in Decatur Rec, Katy Perry blaring on the loudspeakers — “Make ‘em go, oh, oh, oh.”
I heard that the students and teachers at College Heights are anxious but excited. One class did a wonderful welcome display that I hope to share once I get the photo sent to me.
Earlier, parents dropping off their kids — some of whom came back from vacation to show up for school since Decatur pre-k through high school students are out this week on break — had to go through metal detectors and then were told to depart quickly.
The Decatur Recreation Center is about a mile from my house and I walked to cover the Obama speech today at 1:30 as I knew parking, always terrible in downtown, would be impossible. The police presence was awe-inspiring but necessary given how exposed the rec center is. It is not an easy building to secure.
I lost count after two dozen marked police cars and many more unmarked, some stationed a half mile away down College Avenue near Columbia. I kidded one officer that I would love to see this much firepower to slow down the speeders who make my left turn every day onto College Avenue during rush hour a leap of faith.
The walking route was already full of people, some carrying “We love the President” signs. Others had Obama’s face attached to lacrosse sticks — the gang across from the Dairy Queen near the railroad tracks. There were lots of kids — Decatur schools are out this week, but my kids are still sleeping — out and about, taking photos of themselves around the rec center.
I reached my seat at 1o:58 and the line of invited guests waiting to be admitted already snaked down Sycamore. Many dignitaries but also lots of regular folks in line, all in good spirits. (Keep in mind that Decatur is Obama territory; he handily won the city.)
Inside the newly renovated rec center — it reopened earlier this month — there are dozens of reporters and camera crews. And there is also lots of ordinary folks snapping photos.
A bright banner, “Preschool for all,” adorns one wall.
Sitting next to Nancy Badertscher, my AJC colleague and a former AJC colleague now with USA Today.
Trying to figure out who all these folks are. Seeing city officials and their kids. Many teachers and the Decatur kids who won the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Awards for the Decatur schools.
–Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog