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Some local students hear Obama talk

INKSTER, N.D. -- Like many other K-12 schools in the region, Midway Public School in Inkster, N.D., left it up to the teachers to decide if they wanted to show President Barack Obama's back-to-school speech in the classroom.

Obama's back to school speech
U.S. History and Geomentry students watch President Barack Obama's back-to-school speech Tuesday morning in the library at Midway (N.D.) Public School. Teachers chose whether to have their students watch the speech. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

INKSTER, N.D. -- Like many other K-12 schools in the region, Midway Public School in Inkster, N.D., left it up to the teachers to decide if they wanted to show President Barack Obama's back-to-school speech in the classroom.

Two chose to have students watch it live and two had the speech recorded for a later playback. Superintendent Roger Abbe said lesson plans after the speech would focus on the president's presentation, not on the politics.

"I think part of the controversy arose from lesson plans put online," he said. "I think some people read some things in more than they should have."

About three dozen students and staff members gathered in the library to view the speech live on C-SPAN. Some students said they were moved by the president's call to commit to their goals.

"What he said is what we need to stick to," said Kacie Becker, a junior. "I want to go to college and do something in the medical field."

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"I want to attend UND and become a lawyer or paralegal," said Nathan Linstad, a sophomore.

Senior Hallie Weber said she was motivated by the president's advice to stick with it even when it's difficult.

"I had the second highest GPA in my class but still dropped out for four days," Weber said. "Teachers and counselors worked with me to get into classes that would benefit me most, so I'm going to be a counselor or teacher, even if the pay isn't the best."

Tape delay

Students in Crookston Public Schools won't begin class until Thursday, and Superintendent Wayne Gilman said the district hasn't decided if the speech will be shown to children later in the week.

He said he hadn't watched the speech or read the transcript by Tuesday, but teachers and principals will review Obama's message before making a decision.

Grand Forks Public Schools didn't show the speech Tuesday, but Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson said the district's teachers can show it later in the week.

The district made the call to not show it live because administrators wanted to give everyone time to watch the speech first, he said. Principals and other staff members received several calls last week from parents who were concerned about Obama's message.

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But they also received e-mails and calls Tuesday from parents who were upset over not letting kids see the speech, Thompson said, which came as somewhat of a surprise.

"I think we've certainly heard from both sides of the issue," he said.

Part of Tuesday's reaction was from misinformation that the district was completely blocking Obama's statement in the schools, which he said isn't true because administrators had planned all along to allow teachers to show it later in the week.

Thompson pointed out that Grand Forks wasn't alone in its reaction to the uproar last week. "It's not just a local issue," he said. "It's a regional and national issue that many districts are dealing with, and we certainly aren't the only district that decided to go with a tape delay."

David Pace, superintendent for East Grand Forks Public Schools, said his district also opted to not live broadcast Obama's speech for a couple of reasons -- administrators wanted to give teachers a chance to watch it before deciding to show it in their classroom, and the speech's broadcast at 11 a.m. happened during lunchtime.

The speech was videotaped, he said, and teachers will be able to decide whether to show it in the coming days. Parents will be able to request that their children not see the message, which Pace said is the case for other things as well.

"They can do that with virtually any part of the curriculum," he said.

Pace said he understood some of the concerns that arose across the county as people worried Obama's message would have a political slant. The last-minute release of the speech was what prompted his district to decide against showing the message live because he wanted to give everyone a chance to watch it first and make up their minds.

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'Right on'

Still, Pace said the speech itself was fairly innocuous.

"The message that the president conveyed was a lot of the messages that we tell students every day," he said. "Tend to your homework, be in school and set goals. It's a lot of the things that we talk about every day, every year."

But will Obama's speech about a very familiar topic actually be more effective than the same message from parents and teachers? Pace said that answer, and how much impact the speech really has, likely will depend on what students believed about this "different voice" before they watched the speech.

"Coming from the president, a lot of it is going to be your personal values or your parents' values," he said. "It's hard to say."

Thompson agreed that the message was "right on," and said he thought the speech was wonderful.

"Certainly, we encourage our students to study hard and certainly stay in school," he said. "Now that the comments have been out there... I think it will be a very positive message."

Reach Ryan Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

Reach James R. Johnson at (701) 780-1262; (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or send e-mail to jjohnson2@gfherald.com .

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