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Published: Wednesday, 9/9/2009

Speech to students gets spotty reception in Toledo area

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If President Obama told 15-year-old Andy Geiermann to drop out of school, the Toledo teen would do just that.

"I would stay home and wake up every day at noon," said the Cardinal Stritch High School sophomore Tuesday, shortly after he and his Spanish II classmates listened to the President's speech about the importance of education.

But, Andy said, President Obama doesn't want kids dropping out and sleeping in. The President wants students to stay in school, do their best, and make everyone proud, and "That's what I am going to do because he's the President and that's what he told me," he said.

Across the Toledo area, the noon viewing audience for Mr. Obama's pep talk to students was spotty in some schools and virtually nonexistent in others.

Reasons varied. For some districts, the broadcast's noon time slot was deemed too disruptive to the school day. For other districts just starting the school year, namely schools in Michigan that had a first day yesterday, teachers lacked sufficient notice to put the speech into lesson plans.

And the President's speech also has sparked controversy and triggered complaints from some parents who felt he would deliver a political message to their children.

Oregon City Schools and Anthony Wayne Schools decided not to show the address to students yesterday. In the Perrysburg district, Superintendent Thomas Hosler, who stated "this unprecedented address to all students has generated controversy in our community and across the nation," outlined restrictions and options for viewing the speech in a message to parents, students, and others.

At Cardinal Stritch, teacher Lauren Shaw wanted her students to watch the speech live. The focus of the speech, she said, was "for students to stay in school and the importance of education and I wanted them to hear that from President Obama."

When Mr. Obama was introduced at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., the crowd there cheered. At Cardinal Stritch students were still settling into their seats and looking for their homework as Miss Shaw told them to watch and pay attention.

They sat quietly and attentively, showing little reaction other than chuckling when the President uttered the word "stupid."

When talking about how you can't let your failures define you, you have to let your failures teach you, Mr. Obama said, "If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying."

Ben Hahn, 16, of Perrysburg was one of two Cardinal Stritch students who applauded when the speech ended. "I enjoyed his speech. It motivated me to set goals for myself," he said.

Sophomore Christy Adams, 15, of Toledo said she plans to do what the President suggested - set goals and work hard to reach them - as she pursues her dream of becoming a sports reporter.

Although Christy Adams said the President gave the speech because he has a strong interest in education, some people questioned Mr. Obama's agenda.

Others questioned what all the fuss was about.

Bruce Nelson, Dundee Community Schools superintendent, said some teachers chose to work it into their class instruction and others did not. He and some other southeast Michigan superintendents acknowledged receiving a few phone calls prior to the speech, but not enough to sway their decisions about how to handle it.

"I don't see how anything the President of the United States says could be so caustic that it would traumatize your kids for the rest of their lives," Mr. Nelson said. "I grew up in the 1960s. I graduated from high school in 1969. You didn't say, 'Don't listen to Martin Luther King.' You got your thinking challenged. That's the type of stuff I think we want to encourage in our democracy."

Oregon Superintendent Mike Zalar said he received numerous calls from parents last week who were concerned "about having their child indoctrinated by a certain political agenda." As the text of the speech changed several times last week, he decided it would be best to wait and see what the final address would be.

"We wanted to have a little time to review the message and see if it was appropriate for inclusion into the curriculum," Mr. Zalar said.

Oregon teachers will have the opportunity to view the broadcast and decide if it will help meet the academic content standards for their classes. If so, they will be able to show the address in class at a later date. Parents will be notified in advance.

Anthony Wayne Superintendent John Granger said classes didn't stop their activities to watch the speech. "We wanted to have an uninterrupted school day," he said.

Students weren't prohibited from viewing the speech, he said. Students in study hall, for instance, could watch the speech if they elected to do so.

Sylvania Schools left the decision up to individual teachers. It was not known how many allowed students to watch. Elementary schoolchildren were allowed to opt out if their parents had made an advance request, Nancy Crandell, district spokesman, said.

Penta Career Center required teachers to request permission in writing before showing the broadcast to students. "This is difficult territory for everyone. This is something that created a furor," Penta Superintendent Ronald Matter said of the presidential address. "We didn't want to get in a situation where this was creating angst for our students or the parents of our students."

Only one social studies teacher asked that students watch, but changed his mind after he read the text of the speech released days ago, Penta Academic Supervisor Suzy Short said. The broadcast was recorded to accommodate any teachers who may want to show it later, she said.

Toledo's public school districts, Toledo Public Schools and Washington Local Schools, left it up to individual teachers.

"If it worked into a teacher's lesson plan, they had the opportunity to view the speech," TPS spokesman Patty Mazur said. "But parents had the right to call or send a note if they didn't want their student to participate."

It was unknown how many classrooms did watch the speech, she said.

Washington Local spokesman Wendy Farran said they left it up to the academic freedom of the teachers to use their discretion. The district has a policy where parents can opt their child out of any curriculum and the speech would have fallen into that category.

Rossford Exempted Village Schools told teachers they could watch the speech if it worked into their lesson plans for the day, said Lisa Spotts, district spokesman.

Maumee City Schools posted the speech on its Web site and will link to a video of the speech, spokesman Nancy Sayre said. Otsego Local Schools Superintendent Jim Garber said he was aware of several phone calls from parents who didn't want the broadcast shown to their children, but said, "I don't think it was a lot."

Staff writers Jennifer Feehan, Julie McKinnon, Meghan Gilbert, Bridget Tharp, and Tom Henry contributed to this report.



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