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Chestatee High uses Obama's speech as learning tool
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Chestatee High School junior Diego Sanchez, 16, listens to President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday in an honor government and individual law class. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

On Tuesday, a presidential address that was the center of many debates across the country became a live learning opportunity for the students in Danielle Cleveland’s class at Chestatee High School.

"We were given the OK to show the address if it fit into our curriculum. (My government classes) just finished a unit on public opinion, so this speech fit in nicely," said Cleveland, who teaches mostly juniors and seniors at the high school. "It’s rare that students have the opportunity to get firsthand accounts from top officials, so this was a real teachable moment."

Prior to the speech airing live on Tuesday, controversy swirled around whether or not schools should allow the speech to be shown to students.

Many area school systems, including Gainesville City, Hall County and Dawson County, let teachers decide if they wanted to incorporate President Barack Obama’s speech to students into their regular lesson plans.

Other systems, like Jefferson City and Forsyth County, recorded the speech to be reviewed and decide if it should be worked into class curricula.

For Gainesville resident and parent Glenn Fried, the timing of the speech being announced had a lot to do with why he originally objected to the speech.

"This speech was announced close to a month ago. It came out as the president was trying to pass the health care plan. At that time, it crossed the line between talking about the importance of higher education and a political motive," Fried said. "If they said up front that the president wanted to speak to students in a plain, vanilla way, with no political agenda about the importance of staying in school, volunteering and all that, then many people probably wouldn’t have objected to that."

Prior to Tuesday’s address, the text of the president’s speech was made available to the public. Had the transcript been made available sooner, fewer parents would have objected to the speech being shown to their children, Fried said.

After watching the speech, Cleveland used the footage to spark classroom discussions. Among other things, Cleveland asked her students what they thought about the speech and if the "fear/backlash of the speech was justified."

"I don’t see why it was such a big deal, maybe for elementary students, but we’re old enough to make up our own minds," said one student.

"I think it was important for students to see because it is like the president talking. I think a lot of what he said was motivational," added another student.

Tuesday’s address wasn’t the first presidential speech directed toward students. President Ronald Reagan addressed students in 1988 and George H.W. Bush did so in 1991.

During his speech, Obama urged students to take responsibility for their own education and to work to develop their own unique set of skills and talents.

"We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that, if you quit on school, you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country. Now I know it is not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork," Obama said in the speech.

"But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life, what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home, that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying."

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