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

    The proposed $447 billion jobs proposal includes:
  • $30 billion to prevent teacher layoffs – The Denver-based Education Commission of the States estimates Colorado would receive $478 million, saving 6,333 K-12 jobs and 720 positions in early education. See the ECS report.
  • $30 billion to improve K-12 and community college facilities – Of the $25 billion for K-12 schools, $15 billion would go to states based on need and $10 billion would go to the nation’s top 100 school districts. White House estimates say Colorado would receive $265 million for K-12 schools and $57.5 million for community colleges.
  • Read the American Jobs Act

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”