He visited the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, and then spoke to a crowd of students, parents, residents and local city and school officials at the Decatur Recreation Center. Obama’s visit was mainly to promote early childhood programs such as preschool and Pre-K.
Mary McMahon, an exceptional student services teacher at College Heights, spoke to the crowd just before Obama took to the stage.
“As a parent whose child attended College Heights, I’ve personally experienced the impact that quality early learning has on young children,” said McMahon. “Working with this age group, I’m fortunate to see the large amount of progress a child makes in a short period of time. I get to witness those ‘aha’ moments as they learn something new.”
During his visit with the students at College Heights, McMahon said Obama was able to experience firsthand the authentic learning the students are engaged in on a daily basis in all of the classrooms.
Obama said study after study shows the achievement gap starts off very young and referred to his own State of the Union address Tuesday night, when he proposed to make high quality preschool available to every child in America.
“As I said on Tuesday night, education has to start at the earliest possible age, and that’s what you have realized here in Decatur,” said Obama during his speech. “The earlier the child starts learning, the better he or she does down the road.”
Obama added that all children deserve a better chance and that fewer than 30 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in quality preschool programs.
“Most middle class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for preschool,” he said. “And for the poor children who need it most, the lack of access to a great preschool education could have an impact on their entire lives — and we all pay a price for that.”
Decatur Mayor Jim Baskett agreed with Obama and said he could not imagine why anyone would not rally around what he had to say.
“His speech was so dead on and so needed in this country,” said Baskett.
Baskett added the educational landscape within the city of Decatur and with its City of Decatur Schools is the best it can be.
“There’s nowhere it’s any better,” he said. “The learning experience that the schools are emphasizing is just equal to none … it’s just so good.”
Obama mentioned how 200 small children are educated daily at College Heights with highly qualified teachers.
“I was working with them to build towers, and replicate sculptures, sing songs and look, I got to admit I was not always the fastest guy on some of this stuff,” he said of his visit at the school. “The kids were beating me to the punch. But through this interactive learning, they’re learning math, writing and how to tell stories.”
He added the school has been good at combining students from different income levels, as well as disabled students, all in the same classes.
“Let’s make it a national priority to get every child access to a high quality early education … let’s give our kids that chance,” said Obama. “I’m so proud of every single teacher who is here, who has dedicated their lives to make sure those kids get a good start in life. I want to make sure I’m helping and I want to make sure the country is behind each step of the way.”