AL schools differ in handling Obama speech to children

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Several school systems across the state grappled with how to handle President Obama's back to school speech.  From a school in Virginia, the President encouraged students to stay in school, continue on even after making mistakes and follow their dreams.

At Robinson Elementary school in Birmingham, the entire building watched the speech live. Principal Sandra Kindell says the message was just as important as the messenger.  "It's someone they look up to.  He's the leader of our country and concerned about their future and letting them know they're part of that future."  Afterwards, students discussed what they heard and were encouraged to put their thoughts on paper.  "I just think it will make a difference to people and make people do better in school," said 5th grader Terrence Horton.  His classmate, Destiny Brown said she enjoyed listening.  "I think the President is trying to teach us things we really need to know and really need to care about."

It was a different story, however, at Valley Intermediate School in Shelby County.  Principal Dana Payne opted not to show the speech school wide after hearing from lots of parents. "I got emails, phone calls and also the secretaries up front were taking call," Payne said Tuesday.  "The ones I heard from said they wanted to watch it with their child and I would feel the same way if I had a child that age.  Cathy Hester was one such parent.  "I guess my concern was we didn't know what he was going to say and I wanted to be there to explain to them what he was saying."    After hearing the speech, Hester said she felt the president's remarks were positive, but still felt her decision was best.  "I'd rather talk with him about those things myself and be there to discuss it with him."  It's a stance parent Carl Davis doesn't understand.  "I don't see what the big deal is.  Why parents are making a ruckus about it," Davis said.  "For gosh sakes, it's the President of the United States and all presidents I've known have given kids nothing but good advice."

If parents at Valley Intermediate wanted their children to watch the speech, they had to write a note to tell the school.  About 5 or 6 kids out of 780 watched it, including fourth grader Isabella Finley.  "I thought it was heartwarming and a little sad," Finley said, referring to the people the president talked about who made mistakes along the way.  "But it proves to lots of students how you can do what you want regardless of who you are and where you come from."

Payne says the school will burn DVD copies of the speech and have them available for parents to check out if they want to watch it with their children.