Before President Barack Obama bounded out in his shirtsleeves to talk about jobs at her school on Tuesday, Lincoln High School senior Amelia Sanchez stood in the bright sun and recited the 60-second introduction she had prepared with her favorite teacher and her best friend since middle school.
Sanchez, who is 17, may have seemed preternaturally calm to the thousands of people spread out in front of her in the high school parking lot but her friends say they could see she was nervous – her cheeks twitch – so they cheered loudly to show their support.
Sanchez’s parents did not attend. Her dad Rosalio is a construction worker and her mom Norma is a cleaner and, for them, getting the day off was not an option.
“My mom was, like, super proud,” Sanchez said afterward. “She told me she was going to try to see me on TV.”
Obama may have chosen a 54-year-old Denver high school in a lower-income, largely Hispanic neighborhood to make political points with his latest speech pushing a $447 billion jobs proposal.
But for Amelia and her friends, who don’t follow politics, the president’s message hit home. They are college-bound students – Sanchez is going to the University of Colorado with her sights set on medical school – who see their parents working on construction sites or behind cash registers or, worse, not working at all.
- Read what Obama said about education and what his plan may mean for Colorado teachers and schools
- Link to a copy of Obama’s prepared speech
So senior Erik Cantor wanted to hear about opportunities for his father, a construction worker, and he wanted to hear how the proposal might improve education at schools like Lincoln.
Obama’s American Jobs Act sets aside $30 billion for renovating K-12 schools and community colleges, including technology upgrades. Another $30 billion would be used to prevent teacher layoffs.
“If we can’t study now for the jobs in the future, if we don’t have the technology now for the jobs, then there’s no purpose in getting an education,” said Cantor, also 17.
Lincoln Principal Josefina Petit Higa said the school let out early for the event and more than 1,600 of the school’s 1,900 students picked up tickets giving them entry to the president’s talk.
“They knew he was going to talk about jobs – that’s important to them, it comes home,” Petit Higa said. “Because many of their parents do not have, possibly, jobs or they have situations in which they cannot get better jobs.
“So just in thinking that a bill like that would pass for many of our families is incredible.”
Cantor, who waited with several friends for Sanchez to finish up interviews, said his dad doesn’t always have steady work.
Demographics at Lincoln
- 1,929 students
- 96% poverty rate, 35% English language learners
- 530 students in Advanced Placement classes, 213 students in college courses
Gracia Luna, 17, said her father would like a second job to help support the family. Gabriela Duenez, 17, said her mother has been looking for work for two years and can’t find a full-time job.
“Obama is mostly centered around the middle class and this whole neighborhood is basically middle class,” said Leslie Lagunes, 17, and the others nodded. “So this is going to affect us the most.”
Obama’s plan faces a tough battle in Congress. But Petit Higa, a 30-year educator whose own parents never got past the sixth grade in school, said the president’s presence at Lincoln already has made a difference.
“I think it does send a message to students,” she said. “And that is, we’re important, we’re special and we can do this.”
- The proposed $447 billion jobs proposal includes:
- $30 billion to prevent teacher layoffs – The Denver-based Education Commission of the States estimates Colorado would receive $478 million, saving 6,333 K-12 jobs and 720 positions in early education. See the ECS report.
- $30 billion to improve K-12 and community college facilities – Of the $25 billion for K-12 schools, $15 billion would go to states based on need and $10 billion would go to the nation’s top 100 school districts. White House estimates say Colorado would receive $265 million for K-12 schools and $57.5 million for community colleges.
- Read the American Jobs Act
On improving facilities:
- “The science labs here at Lincoln High were built decades ago, back in the ’60s. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but science and technology have changed a little bit since the 1960s. The world has changed a little bit since the 1960s. So we need to do everything we can to prepare our kids to compete. We need to do everything we can to make sure our students can compete with any students anywhere in the world.”
- “Why should our children be allowed to study in crumbling, outdated schools? How does that give them a sense that education is important? We should build them the best schools! That’s what I want for my kids; that’s what you want for your kids; that’s what I want for every kid in America.”
On saving teaching jobs:
- “Let’s pass this jobs bill and put teachers back in the classroom where they belong. Places like South Korea, they’re adding teachers in droves to prepare their kids for the global economy, we’re laying off our teachers left and right. All across the country, budget cuts are forcing superintendents to make choices they don’t want to make. I can tell you the last thing a governor like John Hickenlooper wants to do is to lose teachers. It’s unfair to our kids, it undermines our future, it has to stop.”
- “If you want to put teachers back in these classrooms – pass the bill.”
Click on individual photos to enlarge and to scroll in slideshow format.