Do you have an opinion?
Routt County parents who have something to say about whether they will allow their children to watch President Barack Obama's address to schoolchildren should call reporter Jack Weinstein at 970-871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@steamb...
Steamboat Springs Routt County's three public school districts are taking individual approaches to handling President Barack Obama's live broadcast of a speech this morning to America's schoolchildren.
The controversy surrounding Obama's speech has been most apparent in the Steamboat Springs School District, where officials reported receiving numerous calls from parents who didn't want their children to be forced to watch it, as well as calls from parents who hoped the district would make it available for all students to see it.
Instead of having the broadcast air live in district classrooms, Superintendent Shalee Cunningham is making the speech available in each school's media center.
In an e-mail Monday to the Pilot & Today, Cunningham said Obama's speech also will be recorded for teachers who want to use it at a later date. The video of Obama's speech also will be linked to from the district's Web site to allow children to watch it with their parents tonight.
Controversy about Obama's speech swelled nationally late last week after the White House posted on its Web site lesson plans teachers could use to coincide with the address, to be aired live at 10 a.m. today on C-SPAN and at www.WhiteHouse.gov. One of the original lesson plans suggested that students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." That line fueled speculation among conservatives that Obama was using the speech for political purposes. The White House called the controversy "silly," and stressed that the speech is to encourage children to take their education seriously.
However, the White House also acknowledged the poor wording of the suggested lesson plan activity and has since revised it to ask students to consider writing "letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short- and long-term education goals." Visit Steamboatpilot.com to see the suggested lesson plans issued by the White House and U.S. Department of Education.
On Monday, Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said teachers who want to use the videotaped speech for a future classroom lesson would send a permission slip home with students for their parents to sign. Bishop said it will be up to teachers whether to use the lesson plans provided by the White House.
Bishop said the district's decision to make the speech available in media centers wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to complaints from parents.
"We just tried to reach the best compromise, I believe, for all parties involved," Bishop said, adding that he thinks students should have access to the address but that watching it shouldn't be mandatory.
Jack Taylor, chairman of the Routt County Republican Central Committee and former state senator from Steamboat, said he initially was nervous about the contents of Obama's speech.
Taylor said it's one thing if the speech were designed to be a pep talk about the advantages of going to school, working hard and getting an education, but another for the president to discuss policy and tell schools what to do.
"Parents should have the right to withhold their students from going to that class if they so desire," Taylor said. "Parents should have the last say about how their kids are educated. They should have that ability without any consequences."
The White House released a transcript of Obama's speech Monday. The address focuses on students taking responsibility for their own educations. Similar speeches to students were given by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Catherine Carson, of the Routt County Democratic Party, said she was disappointed the school district was politicizing something that was non-political by allowing optional viewing of the address.
"What's happening nationwide - and certainly unfortunate to see happen in Steamboat - a very loud and small minority is trying to out-shout the voices of the majority who want a polite discussion on the issues."
Carson said she hoped the district would reconsider its stance and make viewing Obama's speech easier for students.
South Routt and Hayden
South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said it will be up to individual teachers to decide whether their classes watch the live broadcast this morning. It's also up to teachers whether to use the White House lesson plans.
According to the text of Obama's speech, he encourages students to take responsibility for their own education by showing up to school, paying attention to teachers, listening to parents, grandparents and other adults, and putting in the hard work to succeed and become future leaders.
"That's a positive message from the president, and I support that," Mader said. "I'd support that no matter who the president is."
Mader said he did not receive any calls from parents, nor did he hear about any calls made to the district's principals.
Today is the first day of the school year for Hayden students, and Superintendent Greg Rockhold said they would be far too busy to watch the presidential address live. Rockhold said the district would download and archive the speech. At a later date, Rockhold said students, with permission from their parents, would be able to access the speech, and teachers also could use it during lessons, when appropriate.
Rockhold said he received only one call about Obama's address to schoolchildren and it wasn't positive or negative, just a question about whether the district would show it.
- To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello everyone - how's everybody doing today? I'm here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we've got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I'm glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it's your first day in a new school, so it's understandable if you're a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you're in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could've stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn't have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn't too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I'd fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I'd complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I'm here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I'm here because I want to talk with you about your education and what's expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I've given a lot of speeches about education. And I've talked a lot about responsibility.
I've talked about your teachers' responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I've talked about your parents' responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don't spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I've talked a lot about your government's responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren't working where students aren't getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that's what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that if you quit on school you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.
Now I know it's not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that's like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in.
So I wasn't always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I'm not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn't have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don't have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there's not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren't right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That's what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn't speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I'm thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who's fought brain cancer since he was three. He's endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer hundreds of extra hours to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he's headed to college this fall.
And then there's Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she's on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren't any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That's why today, I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you'll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you'll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you'll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don't feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you're not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject you study. You won't click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That's OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who've had the most failures. JK Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can't let your failures define you you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one's born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You're not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don't hit every note the first time you sing a song. You've got to practice. It's the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it's good enough to hand in.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It's the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what's your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I'm working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you've got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.