Covering Washington politics. From our vantage point. One day a time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

President Obama Addresses Banneker High

Delivers Back To School Address
President Obama addressed students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School where he encouraged the students to continue their education after graduating high school.

President Obama is greeted by enthusiastic  Banneker High School students during his back-to-school address.
  Photo/CD Brown.

Looking even more gray haired, the president told the roughly 250 assembled students, "I want all of you to set a goal to continue your education after you graduate. And if that means college for you, just getting into college is not enough.  You also have to graduate."

Achieving that goal is what Banneker students thrive on.  Banneker is a top ranking school in the District of Columbia, graduating 100% of its class.  Its students continue that success rate also with a 100% college graduation rate.  The school has been rated one of the top 50 schools in the nation by Newsweek Magazine, and has been given a 10 out of 10 rating on the 'Great Schools' web site.  It's sits squarely across from Howard University, another leading institution of higher learning in the nation's capital. 

"We've been doing this for 30 years", said the school's principal Anita Berger who admits she had to keep the exciting news that the president would be paying a visit a secret to the students. 

"We are honored to have the president visit us for his Back-To-School speech."

With that announcement made over the school's loud speaker, "there was a roar from the students", Berger said.  "The students were just so elated."   Berger, in her seventh year as principal of Banneker, admonished the students to listen to President Obama's message. 

"Yes, he is the president.  But listen to his message.  His message is so important", she said.

Having the president visible at the school also garnered praise by DC council member Kwame Brown, who includes Banneker students on his college tours that gives college bound students the opportunity to visit and learn about different colleges.  "I think it's great that the president has shown up at one of the top schools here in Washington, DC where we have highest performance rate taking place in the country", said Brown. "And it shows by him being here at the [school year] kickoff event right here on Georgia Avenue."

Banneker students participated in a Race To The Top video competition where the winner would be awarded by having the president speak at their graduation.  Banneker didn't win the competition, but turned out to be winners on the day, nonetheless, by having President Obama present his back-to-school address.

'Exciting', and 'outstanding' where the words used by third year math teacher Kelly Watson on having Obama speak where she teaches.  "It's really a monumental moment for our students.  It's really wonderful."

"It's a great feeling. Nothing like has happened to me before", said Jovanni Henry, a senior with plans to study aeronautical engineering at either UVA, or MIT. "It's wonderful to have the person who runs the country come to Benjamin Banneker."

The president's message wasn't just for students, but for teachers as well.  The president praised teachers for their hard work and sacrifice that often times leaves their weekends taken, and their evenings usually ending late at night.  It's a labor of love that doesn't always pay big, monetarily.

"I know I've heard him talk about higher pay for teachers.  I'm a fan of that", said Watson. "Personally being a young teacher, I have many student loans that I would love to get paid off."

Said President Obama of teachers, "They don’t do it for a fancy office.  They sure don’t do it for the big salary.  They do it for you.  They do it because nothing gives them more satisfaction than seeing you learn.  They live for those moments when something clicks; when you amaze them with your intellect or your vocabulary, or they see what kind of person you’re becoming.  And they’re proud of you.  And they say, I had something to do with that, that wonderful young person who is going to succeed.  They have confidence in you that you will be citizens and leaders who take us into tomorrow.  They know you’re our future."

The future looks bright for Banneker students, those like ninth grader Sherri Daniels who expected the president to talk to her and her classmates about making a positive impact on the world. Daniels has aspirations to make her own mark by becoming either a nurse or doctor.

Banneker focuses on math and engineering (AP courses) with an additional focus on community service.   All students must also complete 150 hours of community service - before graduating.  Students go through an interview process for admittance.

The school is named after Benjamin Banneker, an African American astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, almanac author and farmer. He has several parks in the Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD areas named after him, as well as a historical marker in the Washington's Newseum.  His likeness is also featured on a U.S. stamp, part of the African American Heritage series.  He is also credited with designing Washington, DC.

Photo stream of the president's visit can be viewed here.

Listen below to our interview with Banneker's principal Anita Berger as she discusses the school's success rate and President Obama's visit.


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