Obama visits Brooklyn school, praises NY for education reform

President Obama delivering his speech at Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
President Obama delivering his speech at Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Credit: William Alatriste

A helicopter carrying President Barack Obama touched down in Prospect Park Friday afternoon, as local Brooklyn politicians and educators gathered at Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights in anticipation of his visit.

P-TECH is what’s called a 9-14 school, a public high school where students take high school and college-level classes and graduate after six years with both a high school degree and a diploma. Though the school is only in its third year and has not yet had a graduating class, the president referenced the school is his State of the Union speech this year as a model other education systems around the country should follow.

In his speech at the school, the president commended Governor Andrew Cuomo multiple times for opening schools like P-TECH statewide, and hailed Bloomberg as having been “an extraordinary mayor for this city.”

He also gave a shout-out to the city’s Democratic candidate for mayor, who he referred to as “my friend, Bill de Blasio.”

The apparently enthralled crowd remained standing for a several minutes, until the president realized they had chairs, and urged people to sit.

“Unless you don’t have a chair, because then you’ll fall,” he joked.

Obama seemed quite taken with P-TECH’s principal Rashid Davis for his “cool” dreadlocks and “yellow kicks.”

A math teacher at the school, Brian Lewis, later said the mention of Davis’ sneakers cracked the school’s staff up.

“I thought it was hilarious because we always laugh about those sneakers,” Lewis said. “I was surprised to see him wearing them today.”

Obama also joked about how “cool” Brooklyn is, noting that it was cool back when he lived near Prospect Park — where he landed his helicopter today — and is even cooler now.

But he also spoke of the borough as a place “where generations of immigrants came in search of opportunity.”

“I want us to do everything we can to give every single young person the same opportunity this country gave me,” he said, insisting repeated that “this country should be doing everything in our power” to get more students into schools like this one.

But Obama got some jabs at Congress in as well.

“Just sat in on a lesson called Real World Math, makes me wonder if it’s too late to send Congress here,” the president wisecracked.

He later asked Senator Chuck Schumer to bring House Republicans to the school on a field trip.

Since the president mentioned P-TECH in his State of the Union speech, schools like P-TECH have been popping up around the city, state and throughout the country. Bloomberg noted in a short speech before the president’s arrival that the city opened two more schools with the same model as P-TECH this year, just last month, and three more are set to open next September.

“Since President Obama wisely challenged the country last January to create more schools just like P-TECH, we’ve helped lead the way,” Bloomberg said.

Obama agreed, praising New York for ground-breaking progress in education, noting that schools like P-TECH are being opened in Chicago now as well.

“You’re starting something, all across the country,” Obama said to the students and staff of P-TECH.

“It’s not easy,” he added. “[But] you should stay at it.”

Third-year P-TECH student Guy Burnham, 16, said the president’s speech left him feeling “highly motivated.” A Crown Heights resident himself, Guy said he wants to be a mechanical engineer.

“For the president to come to my school, and say such great things about my school,” Guy said, emphasizing the “my.” “It just motivated me to the highest level.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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