Paul Wellman

Like schoolchildren the nation over, kids in the Santa Barbara School Districts have been tuning in all week to President Barrack Obama’s historic start-of-the-school-year address. Delivered live at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, September 8, via the Internet, the President’s speech was watched in real time by thousands of Santa Barbara pupils while thousands more have watched a taped version of it in the days since.

A lightning rod for partisan criticism in the days leading up to the actual event, the 16-minute speech was an overwhelming success according to school district officials and campus administrators. “When the President of the United States wants to give a message direct to students the lesson there for them is huge,” explained La Cumbre Junior High Principal Jo Ann Caines. It was absolutely an entirely positive experience,” she added. “I’m hoping he does it every year.”

Attacked for potentially pushing his political agenda on unsuspecting school children, Obama found himself under scrutiny in the days prior to his address-which marked the first time a President has spoken specifically to the youth of our country since George Bush Sr. did it in 1991. As a result, not only did the White House provide a transcript of the speech a day before to help teachers decide if they were going to show it or not, but most districts-including both the Santa Barbara Elementary and High School districts-notified parents and allowed them to opt-out of having their children watch the address, if they were so inclined. While not every classroom in the roughly 15,500 student district showed the speech, according to officials, the majority of students had the opportunity to watch the talk at some point this week and, as of press time, approximately 12 students had opted out.

At La Cumbre Junior High-the only campus in the Santa Barbara School Districts whose staff and students universally dropped everything they were doing at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and tuned in to the address-only one student was picked up by a parent before the broadcast, according to Caines. “There was nothing political [about his speech]” opined the principal, “It was a true message showing his commitment to excellence.” Even better, in Caines’s estimation, the President’s message about respect, responsibility, and setting goals for yourself was perfectly in step with the philosophies preached every day at her campus full of 7th and 8th graders. “I think [his message and his story about his own upbringing] really resonated for our students here. We have a lot of kids who live in poverty and have a lot of reasons why they shouldn’t be successful. His speech really resonated for them: I even had one student come up to me afterwards and ask ‘Ms. Caines, did you write President Obama’s speech?'”

For a full transcript of President Obama’s back to school address go to his prepared remarks.


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