President Barack Obama Scheduled to Speak by Satellite to Crystal Lake Grade Schoolers

Imagine my surprise when an alert Crystal Lake South Elementary School parent emailed me that District 47 was going to allow President Barack Obama to speak to its students on September 8th.

Sure, I’m just too much of a cynic. This pitch to kids has nothing to do with future political campaigns, right?

Right. The same way that politicians’ handing out Halloween candy collection bags right before a November election has nothing to do with their campaigns.

If schools think it is important enough to allow the President to speak to them, he must be important, I’d figure, if I were a kid.

Just from casually listening to the radio during the 1948 presidential campaign, I came up with a question for my mother, then a registered Democrat in Easton, Maryland:

“Why are you and Daddy against the president?”

I certainly must have heard some negative comments from my parents about electing Harry S Truman president.

That was probably my first political utterance. I was six years old. I even remember I was standing next to the washing machine on the back porch.

(And when, after the election, I saw Truman walking across Pennsylvania Avenue from Blair House–where he was staying while the White House was being renovated–in front of the building where I held my first job after grad school, that was a thrill. I was at the curb when he left the crosswalk.)

In any event, the parent emailed me the reply he got from new School Superintendent Donn Mendoza:

“Relative to your first question, here are the parameters we’ve set forth in enabling the streaming of the Educational Address:

“1. Parents have full discretion in having their children ‘opt out’ of seeing the address at school. All schools will provide an alternate location for these students that will have adult supervision during the address.

“2. Follow-up conversations after the address has been given will center around the importance of education, goal setting, current events, etc.

“3. Building staff will ensure that advocating for or against any political party will not be part of any preliminary or follow-up discussions related to this address.

“Our principals have been made aware of these guidelines and parameters.

“We will not be broadcasting the ‘I pledge’ video” (in answer to the second question).

The “I pledge video” is one in which children are encouraged to pledge “to be a servant of President Barack Obama,” according to one email I received.

Too bizarre. (I didn’t watch it, but if you want to, you can above.)

I emailed Mendoza asking for details and was told,

“Students who will not be participating will remain under teacher supervision in an alternate location within the school.”

I remember my son’s having been one of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s “campaign managers” at South School, so he might be one who would want to opt out.


“We’ve set up consistent parameters but as you know, all of our schools are different in terms of available space, etc. At the building level, principals are responsible for determining the manner in which students will be supervised during the address.”

I have learned that at my son’s school, the President’s address will be recorded, previewed and “if it does not turn out to be totally focused on student’s educational success and goal setting, we will choose not to show it to our students.”

Fair enough.

If you have concerns, “Contact your child’s principal,” is the advice I would give.

Here’s a bit of what came from the Department of Education (I received this September 1st and its content may have been altered by now.):

PreK-6 Menu of Classroom Activities

President Obama’s Address to Students
Across America
Produced by Teaching Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education September 8, 2009

Before the Speech:

Teachers can build background knowledge about the President of the United Statesand his speech by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama and motivate students by asking the following questions:

  • Who is the President of the United States?
  • What do you think it takes to be President? To whom do you think the President is going to be speaking?
  • Why do you think he wants to speak to you? What do you think he will say to you?

Teachers can ask students to imagine being the President delivering a speech to all of the students in the United States. What would you tell students? What can students do to help in our schools? Teachers can chart ideas about what they would say.

Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?

During the Speech:

As the President speaks, teachers can ask students to write down key ideas or phrases that are important or personally meaningful. Students could use a note-taking graphic organizer such as a Cluster Web, or students could record their thoughts on sticky notes. Younger children can draw pictures and write as appropriate.

As students listen to the speech, they could think about the following:

  • What is the President trying to tell me?
  • What is the President asking me to do?
  • What new ideas and actions is the President challenging me to think about?

Students can record important parts of the speech where the President is asking them to do something. Students might think about:

  • What specific job is he asking me to do?
  • Is he asking anything of anyone else?
  • Teachers?
  • Principals?
  • Parents?
  • The American people?

Students can record any questions they have while he is speaking and then discuss them after the speech. Younger children may need to dictate their questions.

After the Speech:

Teachers could ask students to share the ideas they recorded, exchange sticky notes or stick notes on a butcher paper poster in the classroom to discuss main ideas from the speech, i.e. citizenship, personal responsibility, civic duty.

Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:

  • What do you think the President wants us to do?
  • Does the speech make you want to do anything?
  • Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
  • What would you like to tell the President?

Teachers could encourage students to participate in the Department of Education’s “I Am What I Learn” video contest.

On September 8th the Department will invite K-12 students to submit a video no longer than 2 min, explaining why education is important and how their education will help them achieve their dreams. Teachers are welcome to incorporate the same or a similar video project into an assignment. More details will be released via .

Extension of the Speech:

Teachers can extend learning by having students

  • Create posters of their goals. Posters could be formatted in quadrants or puzzle pieces or trails marked with the labels: personal, academic, community, country. Each area could be labeled with three steps for achieving goals in those areas. It might make sense to focus on personal and academic so community and country goals come more readily.
  • Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.
  • Write goals on colored index cards or precut designs to post around the classroom.
  • Interview and share about their goals with one another to create a supportive community.
  • Participate in School wide incentive programs or contests for students who achieve their goals.
  • Write about their goals in a variety of genres, i.e. poems, songs, personal essays.
  • Create artistic projects based on the themes of their goals.
  • Graph student progress toward goals.


President Barack Obama Scheduled to Speak by Satellite to Crystal Lake Grade Schoolers — 3 Comments

  1. I sent an e-mail to my daughter's principal Wednesday…I offered to supply "alternative reading materials." The principal replied that it will be up to the individual teachers to decide what to do. She'll be in science class…so I think she's safe…

  2. Good idea. Leave it to RABID REPUBLICANS parents to teach their children disrespect at an early age.

    Had John McCain been elected, and he chose to address the nation's children, you'd all be ok – even incredulous at the reasons someone could possibly "opt out" of a benign presidential message – a true treat for children to see the world's most powerful leader speaking directly to them.

    The hypocrisy is staggering, and misplaced. Good luck in the future, Republicans, because we are all finding-out your time has passed.

  3. Seriously, you were "shocked" to hear that students would be allowed to see an address to them by the sitting PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA?

    Wow I have another major shocker for you, the sun will rise tomorrow morning, water is wet and fire is hot. Apparently you are really slow on the uptake so I wanted to sure there was nothing too earth shattering for you.

    Presidents have been doing this for decades. For years, white men have been addressing students in their capacity as POTUS which nary a peep. All the sudden its an issue when the first minority president has taken office. GEE, I wonder why its an issue now.

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