Glenn Hills students inspired by Obama speech

Shawniece Walker vowed to never let her past determine her future after watching President Obama's televised speech Tuesday.

The Glenn Hills High School sophomore said she spent much of her childhood misbehaving, but the president's speech convinced her that she could overcome her past.

"He said, 'Let your failures teach you,' " Shawniece said after watching the speech in her world history class. "I felt like I was nobody when I was getting into the trouble, but now I see I can still be successful. I can be a leader, not a follower."

Every classroom at Glenn Hills High tuned in to the president's back-to-school speech Tuesday afternoon, Principal Wayne Frazier said.

Glenn Hills and Jenkins-White Charter School were the only confirmed Richmond County schools that let students watch the broadcast during class.

Superintendent Dana Bedden released a statement Friday stating that teachers would not be required to show the televised, 18-minute message from the president, which his critics had said would be agenda-driven. He gave teachers the option of showing the speech as a part of their instructional period.

Last week, the central office was inundated with phone calls from people concerned that teachers would be required to show the speech, which Mr. Obama gave from the library of Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

In Columbia County, schools Superintendent Charles Nagle said last week that the system would not show the live broadcast.

Dr. Frazier said he asked his teachers to show the address to their students because it would be useful in impressing upon them the importance of attending school and doing their best.

"This was not about Republican or Democrat," Dr. Frazier said. "We took this opportunity in the best interest of the students' success and student growth. There's no controversy in that."

Mr. Obama isn't the first president to address schoolchildren in a national speech. On Nov. 14, 1988, President Reagan reached out to America's junior high school students and advised them to "just say no to drugs."

President George H.W. Bush addressed students Oct. 1, 1991. In the televised speech, Mr. Bush said, "Every time you walk through that classroom door, make it your business to learn."

At the time, Democrats accused Mr. Bush of politicizing education.

Much of Mr. Obama's message mirrored that of his predecessors.

"Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer," Mr. Obama said. "And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide."

Jenkins-White second-grade teacher Rodithia Carr said Mr. Obama's message correlated with what she tries to teach her students daily.

"He was talking about us having high expectations for them, and how they should have high expectations for themselves," she said. "It was good for them to hear that from someone besides me."

Tenth-grader Sean Ferguson said he had never listened to a presidential speech before Tuesday. Sean said he now plans to work harder in his math and social studies classes so he can attend culinary school someday.

"I usually don't pay attention to speeches, but this gave me a lot of inspiration," he said. "He (Mr. Obama) related to us. I haven't found a lot of people in older age groups that can relate to us."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.