Obama visit a hit at Lincoln High

Before President Barack Obama bounded out in his shirtsleeves to talk about jobs at her school on Tuesday, Lincoln High School senior Amelia Sanchez stood in the bright sun and recited the 60-second introduction she had prepared with her favorite teacher and her best friend since middle school.

President Obama waves to the crowd gathered Tuesday in front of Denver’s Lincoln High School. Photo by Evan Semon

Sanchez, who is 17, may have seemed preternaturally calm to the thousands of people spread out in front of her in the high school parking lot but her friends say they could see she was nervous – her cheeks twitch – so they cheered loudly to show their support.

Sanchez’s parents did not attend. Her dad Rosalio is a construction worker and her mom Norma is a cleaner and, for them, getting the day off was not an option.

“My mom was, like, super proud,” Sanchez said afterward. “She told me she was going to try to see me on TV.”

Obama may have chosen a 54-year-old Denver high school in a lower-income, largely Hispanic neighborhood to make political points with his latest speech pushing a $447 billion jobs proposal.

But for Amelia and her friends, who don’t follow politics, the president’s message hit home. They are college-bound students – Sanchez is going to the University of Colorado with her sights set on medical school – who see their parents working on construction sites or behind cash registers or, worse, not working at all.

So senior Erik Cantor wanted to hear about opportunities for his father, a construction worker, and he wanted to hear how the proposal might improve education at schools like Lincoln.

Obama’s American Jobs Act sets aside $30 billion for renovating K-12 schools and community colleges, including technology upgrades. Another $30 billion would be used to prevent teacher layoffs.

“If we can’t study now for the jobs in the future, if we don’t have the technology now for the jobs, then there’s no purpose in getting an education,” said Cantor, also 17.

President Obama hugs Lincoln High School senior Amelia Sanchez after she introduces him. Photo by Evan Semon

Lincoln Principal Josefina Petit Higa said the school let out early for the event and more than 1,600 of the school’s 1,900 students picked up tickets giving them entry to the president’s talk.

“They knew he was going to talk about jobs – that’s important to them, it comes home,” Petit Higa said. “Because many of their parents do not have, possibly, jobs or they have situations in which they cannot get better jobs.

“So just in thinking that a bill like that would pass for many of our families is incredible.”

Cantor, who waited with several friends for Sanchez to finish up interviews, said his dad doesn’t always have steady work.

Demographics at Lincoln

  • 1,929 students
  • 96% poverty rate, 35% English language learners
  • 530 students in Advanced Placement classes, 213 students in college courses

Gracia Luna, 17, said her father would like a second job to help support the family. Gabriela Duenez, 17, said her mother has been looking for work for two years and can’t find a full-time job.

“Obama is mostly centered around the middle class and this whole neighborhood is basically middle class,” said Leslie Lagunes, 17, and the others nodded. “So this is going to affect us the most.”

Obama’s plan faces a tough battle in Congress. But Petit Higa, a 30-year educator whose own parents never got past the sixth grade in school, said the president’s presence at Lincoln already has made a difference.

“I think it does send a message to students,” she said. “And that is, we’re important, we’re special and we can do this.”

What Obama’s American Jobs Act could mean for Colorado teachers and schools

Education highlights of Obama’s speech at Denver’s Lincoln High School

On improving facilities:

  • “The science labs here at Lincoln High were built decades ago, back in the ’60s. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but science and technology have changed a little bit since the 1960s. The world has changed a little bit since the 1960s. So we need to do everything we can to prepare our kids to compete. We need to do everything we can to make sure our students can compete with any students anywhere in the world.”
  • “Why should our children be allowed to study in crumbling, outdated schools? How does that give them a sense that education is important? We should build them the best schools! That’s what I want for my kids; that’s what you want for your kids; that’s what I want for every kid in America.”

On saving teaching jobs:

  • “Let’s pass this jobs bill and put teachers back in the classroom where they belong. Places like South Korea, they’re adding teachers in droves to prepare their kids for the global economy, we’re laying off our teachers left and right. All across the country, budget cuts are forcing superintendents to make choices they don’t want to make. I can tell you the last thing a governor like John Hickenlooper wants to do is to lose teachers. It’s unfair to our kids, it undermines our future, it has to stop.”
  • “If you want to put teachers back in these classrooms – pass the bill.”

Photos from Obama’s visit to Denver’s Lincoln South High School

Click on individual photos to enlarge and to scroll in slideshow format.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.