MOORESVILLE – A constant buzz of energy filled the Mooresville Middle School gym June 6 before Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, followed by President Barack Obama, addressed a large crowd, including actors Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy.
At one point, a person who appeared to have fainted, distracted the audience from Obama’s speech, causing him to joke to teachers that he needed their help regaining control of the room.
“Every child needs to succeed, every child, every day needs that chance,” Obama told the enraptured audience.
One hundred teenagers – the school serves seventh- and eighth-graders – were chosen to sit behind the President on stage due to their outstanding character and contributions to the school.
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Mooresville was the third stop on Obama’s “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour,” which began in early May in Austin, Texas. This trip marks the first time Obama has returned to the area since last fall’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
“It’s a historic time for both the Mooresville Graded School District and the Mooresville community,” MGSD Superintendent Mark Edwards said.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama laid out his belief that the middle class is the engine of economic growth, saying we must invest in the things that create jobs capable of supporting middle class families, such as technology and education.
He came to MGSD to see firsthand the digital conversion curriculum that’s earned the district national accolades.
During his speech, Obama announced a plan to connect nearly every U.S. classroom to high-speed Internet in the next five years. He promised that this initiative could be done through the Federal Communication Commission, not an act of Congress.
“Today, the average American school has the same bandwidth as the average American home,” Obama said. “In an age when the world’s information is just a click away, it demands we bring our schools into the 21st century. We can’t be stuck in the 19th century when we’re living in a 21st century economy.”
There’s been much talk nationwide that technology levels the economic playing field, giving low-income students a greater chance at college and lifetime success.
Upholding its motto “every child, every day,” MGSD began a digital conversion in 2007, handing out more than 4,500 MacBooks to each student in fourth through 12th grades for round-the-clock use. It spread laptops to third-graders for daytime use in 2010. Interactive white boards and slates also decorate each kindergarten through third-grade classroom.
The goal of the conversion – achieved through classroom blogs and Skype sessions – is to ready the children for an increasingly digital world.
White House staffers told Mooresville Middle Principal Carrie Tulbert that Obama typically visits 10 schools a year, and Mooresville Middle was his fourth in 2013. They added Obama particularly enjoys speaking to students in small groups or one-on-one, so 16 teenagers got the chance to show him the digital, collaborative projects they’ve worked on through the year.
Obama said he enjoyed talking with Mooresville students, who shared how they use technology to write poetry and make movies.
“Imagine a young girl growing up on a farm in a rural area who can now take an (Advanced Placement) biology or AP physics class (online) even if her school is too small to offer it,” Obama said. “I want to see a tablet that’s the same price as a textbook. I want to see more apps that can be instantly updated with academic content the day it’s available.”
Andy Poore, director of special collections at the Mooresville Public Library, said this marks the first time a sitting president has ever visited Mooresville.
Much mystery surrounded how Obama and Duncan would arrive in town.
Yet wild cheers erupted from the students present when they heard a helicopter overhead.
Mooresville Middle students were on lockdown June 6 from the opening bell at 7:20 a.m. until the end of the presidential visit.
The MGSD received coverage by the New York Times in 2012 and now has a 90 percent graduation rate, the third-highest in the state, up from 77 percent in 2007.
Edwards, who’s briefed Duncan about the district’s technology in the past, was named national superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators in February.
Obama acknowledged Edwards’ efforts and the hard work of all teachers.
“We need to be giving teachers support and paying them what they deserve,” Obama said. “All the teachers say ‘Amen,’” he added with a wide grin.
And they did.