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Teachers, students have choice on Obama address

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
Students in the Rowan-Salisbury School System and Kannapolis City Schools will have the option to watch ó or not watch ó President Obama’s address on academic success Tuesday.
Rita Foil, public information officer for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, said some schools will be showing the noon address being broadcast on C-SPAN and the White House Web site (www.whitehouse.gov/live/) live to students who want to watch it and others plan to tape it for review and a possible later showing.
“It is up to teachers’ discretion as to what materials and videos that they use in the classrooms to support the curriculum,” she said, “and this does fall into that category.”
Foil said students in classrooms of teachers who do opt to show the 15-minute address ó either live or at a later time ó will not be forced to watch it if they or their parents object. “Schools are being asked to provide an alternative place for them to go and an alternative activity for them to participate in.”
Parents will be informed of the president’s Tuesday address through Connect-Ed, an automated telephone service.
Dr. Jo Anne Byerly, superintendent of the Kannapolis City Schools, said students and their parents will have a choice as to whether to watch the address, and teachers will have a choice as to whether to show it. Parents are being informed of Obama’s address through Connect-Ed or letters.
“We have not gotten a lot of calls,” Byerly said, adding that the few the school system has received are from both sides. Some parents said they want their children to watch Obama’s address because it may motivate them to do better and stay in school, she said, and others said they would rather their children didn’t watch it.
Foil said the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s administrative offices have received several calls from parents and concerned citizens about students being required to watch Obama’s address.
Vera Cope, who lives in the Woodleaf area, was one of the callers raising concerns about the presidential address. When she first called, Cope said, school officials “didn’t know anything about it.”
In a later call, Cope said she asked a school official if parents would be sent a release form or flyer about Obama’s address and was told they were not obligated to do that. “That’s what got me concerned,” she said.
The grandmother of three children in West Rowan area schools, Cope said she is concerned that the Obama administration “is leaning in the direction of socialism.”
“I feel like he’s going much too fast … ” she said. “I think enough people have gotten involved with this controversy that they’re starting to back down … It was a little stealthy. They were flying this thing under the radar.”
Cope said she is not as concerned now that school officials have said that teachers will have a choice as to whether to show the address and that students and parents will have a choice as to whether they watch it.
Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education member Kay Wright Norman said she is excited about Obama’s address to students because they need all the encouragement that people can give.
“I would love to see the president address the students every year …” she said. “I think all of our schools should be honored that he would take the time to give such an address just to school systems. You accept the help wherever it comes from because we need that kind of help.”
Foil said school officials have been assured that it’s a positive message. “The president is going to encourage students to work hard, set goals and take responsibility for their learning.”
Dr. Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, sent a letter to school officials across the state advising them that the presidential address is “an optional instructional activity.”
“As with many other enrichment opportunities available to educators,” she said in the e-mail, “it is a local decision regarding the participation of your teachers and students.”
Garland said the president will be encouraging students to set high academic goals and to do their best to succeed in school.
In support of this address, the U.S. Department of Education has posted a menu of classroom activities for students at all grade spans ó created by its teachers-in-residence, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows óto help engage students in the address and stimulate classroom discussions about the importance of education. These materials are available online at www.ed.gov.
To further encourage student engagement, the department is launching an “I Am What I Learn” video contest in conjunction with the address. On Sept. 8, the department will ask students to respond to the president’s challenge by creating videos, up to two minutes in length, describing the steps they will take to improve their education and the role education will play in fulfilling their dreams.
More details are available on the department’s Web site.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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