“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs. So we’ve got to invest,” so said President Barack Obama when he visited Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on Friday, Oct. 24.
Who wasn’t in the room? Barely concealing how hyped they were, were former state Comptroller Carl McCall; Reps. Yvette Clarke and Hakeem Jeffries; City Comptroller John Liu; Assemblywoman Annette Robinson; state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery; City Council Members Al Vann, Jumaane Williams and Darlene Mealy; Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Commissioner of Education of New York John King; Medgar Evers President Rudy Crew; Sen. Chuck Schumer; Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; mayoral candidate Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.
The students were excited and patient as secret service and NYPD cops mingled with the crowd in the packed auditorium. Outside, crowds had gathered up and down Albany Avenue, adjacent to the Albany Houses. A heavy, heavy police presence was in effect.
Fifteen gifted and focused pupils were brought before the media to wax lyrical about how wonderful they feel their schools are. Controversy reigned at the beginning of the two-year-old school though, which took up space in Paul Robeson High School and partnered with IBM to give space to 300-plus citywide students. It was part of Bloomberg’s small school movement, wherein he went on an educational rampage, closing established schools and paradoxically opening small ones in the same building.
Some of the Paul Robeson students said that they felt like “second-class citizens” in the building they are now sharing with this highly touted, much praised new school. This just as Bloomberg’s Panel for Educational Policy was set to meet on Wednesday, Oct. 30 for another pseudo public meeting to “discuss” the “vote” on the proposed co-locating of two more Brooklyn schools—M.S. 113 Ronald Edmonds Learning Center and Andries Hudde Middle School—with two new charter schools.
After landing Marine One in Prospect Park, Obama announced, “I used to live across the street from Prospect Park.” Last Friday though, Obama told the cheering audience that it “is good to be back in Brooklyn.”
As he recognized several elected officials, one of the greatest applause-drenched moments was reserved for the “principal here at P-TECH, Rashid Davis, who I am pretty confident is the coolest-looking principal in America. I mean, there just are not that many principals with dreadlocks and yellow kicks.”
Continuing, Obama said, “I’m here because I wanted to come here ever since I talked about you in my State of the Union address this year, because what’s going on here at P-TECH is outstanding, and I’m excited to see it for myself.
“When I was living here, Brooklyn was cool, but not this cool. I’m here today to talk about what we need to do, as a country, to build the same kind of opportunity for your generation, for the next generation, and for your kids, and for future immigrants.”
To rising applause by those assembled, Obama continued, “This country should be doing everything in our power to give more kids the chance to go to schools just like this one. We should be doing everything we can to put college within the reach of more young people. We should be doing everything we can to keep your streets safe and protect you from gun violence.
“We should be doing everything we can to keep families from falling into poverty and build more ladders of opportunity to help people who are willing to work hard climb out of poverty. We should be doing everything we can to welcome new generations of hopeful, striving immigrants.”
He got to the crux of his point when he told the students, “We live in a 21st century global economy. And in a global economy, jobs can go anywhere. Companies, they’re looking for the best-educated people, wherever they live, and they’ll reward them with good jobs and good pay. And if you don’t have a well- educated workforce, you’re going to be left behind. If you don’t have a good education, then it is going to be hard for you to find a job that pays a living wage.”
According to Obama, big business married to education is the key to success. “Here at P-TECH, you’ve got folks from IBM, City Tech, City University of New York, City Department of Education—everybody is pulling together to make sure a high school education puts young people on a path to a good job. So you guys have opportunities here that you don’t find in most high schools yet. You can take college-level courses in math and science. You can work with mentors from IBM, so you’re learning specific skills that you know leads to a good job. And most important, you’ll graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in computer systems or electromechanical engineering. And that means you’ll be in demand. Companies will want to hire you. IBM has even said that P-TECH graduates will be first in line when you apply for jobs once you graduate.”
With the cost of higher education going through the roof, Obama said that he and Education Secretary Duncan “are working hard to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to reduce the burden of student loans on young people. Here’s how much two years of college will cost P-TECH students and their families: zero. Nothing.”
Problem is, the students of Paul Robeson and so many other schools under Bloomberg will not have that opportunity because they are being phased out gradually either by colocation or charter school placement.
With Cuomo in New York and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel planning to open schools like P-TECH, “This is a ticket into the middle class, and it’s available to everybody who’s willing to work for it … Across the country, companies like Verizon and Microsoft and ConEd and Cisco, they saw what IBM was doing, and they said, ‘Well, this is a good idea, we can do this, too.’ So they’re working with educators and states to replicate what you’re already doing here.”
The president noted, “We’ve got to give every child an earlier start at success by making high-quality pre-school available to every 4-year-old in America. We should give every student access to the world’s information. When I went into the classroom today, young people were working off computers, and the problem is a lot of places, even if they’ve got computers, they’re not hooked up to wireless.”
His plan as he enters the second year of his second term, Obama suggested, “is having the federal agencies moving forward on a plan to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet within five years.”
Congress needs to get an interest in “passing a budget that reflects our need to invest in our young people,” said Obama. “What a budget does is it sets our priorities. If we don’t set the right priorities now, then many of you will be put at a competitive disadvantage compared to other countries.
“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs.” The audience applauded. “So we’ve got to invest.
“We need a budget that is responsible, that is fiscally prudent, but a budget that cuts what we don’t need, closes wasteful tax loopholes that don’t create jobs, freeing up resources to invest in the things that actually do help us grow—things like education and scientific research, and infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports. This should not be an ideological exercise, we should use some common sense.”
He praised as a great example 11th-grader Leslieanne John, 16, who sang the national anthem, and has “already taken eight college classes, which is about as many as I took when I was in college. She knows she has a great opportunity here; she’s working hard to make the most of it. Eventually, she plans to become a lawyer. And Leslieanne is clear-eyed about the challenges that the students here face.
“She said, ‘We see a whole bunch of craziness going on in the streets of Crown Heights sometime.’ But being here at P-TECH taught her something important: There’s more for us than just the streets … At the end of the day, we’ve got to make something of ourselves.”
He urged a sense of responsibility and working harder than hard so that “you can go to college even if you don’t have a lot of money. You can start your own business even if you didn’t inherit a business. Making something of ourselves, that’s what we do in this country. That’s a message worth sending to Washington. No more games, no more gridlock, no more gutting the things that help America grow, and give people the tools to make something of themselves. That’s what this is about. That’s what P-TECH represents, that’s what Brooklyn represents.”
At P-TECH, nine to 14 students can earn a six-year education and graduate with an associate college degree in engineering and computers, as well as with job prospects at IBM.
Leslieanne John, 16, sang the national anthem when President Barack Obama visited her P-Tech High School on Friday
Radcliffe Saddler, 16, told the AmNews. “I am introducing the president to the stage, so I am a nervous, but I am excited too.” After giving him a bro hug on stage, Obama sang his praises.
Asafa Reid is a third-year Howard College-bound student. He sat on the dais behind the president. “I feel very inspired, “he told the AmNews. “I am going to try and do better. Try for greatness and really excel in my work.”
Asafa Reid’s mother, Tracey, could not keep still. She was beaming. “I feel like I am in the clouds!” she said with a giggle. “Inspirational. The whole thing was really motivational. I was just glad to be able to shake the president’s hand. It is one of the greatest moments in my life. It will inspire my son to get even greater scores in his college courses.”
John not only sang the national anthem, but the president also referenced her as a fine example of a P-TECH student too. She told the AmNews that she enjoyed her school because of “the opportunities we are afforded. The faculty and staff are so caring. The principal is like a second father to me, and at 16, I have 21 college credits.”