Harlem students who watched President Obama’s back-to-school speech today in their school auditorium could not detect anything to disagree with — except for one point.
“I disagree with Obama’s mom about waking him up at 4:30,” Klara Arnold, a 10-year-old sixth-grader at Democracy Prep Charter School, told her principal, who had explained that the speech initially sparked controversy and asked if students had any differences of opinion with the president.
The speech referred to Obama’s mother’s habit of giving him extra lessons to supplement his schooling while he lived in Indonesia.
Since district public schools won’t open until tomorrow, few New York City schools had to tackle the question of whether and how to air the president’s speech today. Democracy Prep Charter School, which opened for full-day sessions today after half-day preparation last week, did, along with other charter schools around the city.
The Harlem school’s solution was to have its students gather in an auditorium to watch the address via White House webcast, along with a pack of reporters photographing their every reaction, which ranged from dozing off to waving eagerly at Obama when he came on the stage. Then the school leader, Seth Andrew, led a discussion shaped around a worksheet — not the one created by the Obama administration, but one crafted by a former Obama campaign volunteer who now works as the school’s coordinator of civic initiatives, Jeremiah Kittredge.
One exercise had students imagine their own presidential speeches. “I’d thank all the people that helped me become president and get to that day — my mom, my dad, my teachers,” said Kanaya Orah, a sixth-grader who had her first full day at Democracy Prep Charter School yesterday.
Mayeli Martinez said she would talk about the challenges she had overcome. “When I was in kindergarten, I used to have 3’s and 4’s, but then my sister, she would be getting in trouble, and I always wanted to be a bad girl,” Martinez said. Now, Martinez explained, she is getting her act together.
Another discussion, about the “controversy” swirling around the speech, had students discussing the importance of drawing conclusions carefully, listening to diverse opinions, and debating whether presidents can ever be wrong. The consensus was that they can be wrong.
“Sometimes the president says something that we want to hear, but he’s not going to do it,” a boy said.