Yasmeen Khan is an associate producer covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
A young school in Crown Heights that has yet to graduate its first class hosted President Barack Obama on Friday. With mostly Black and Latino students behind him, most of them boys, the president celebrated Brooklyn families, and those across the nation, who are looking for a "ticket into the middle class."
"This country should be doing everything we can to give more kids the chance to go to schools like this," Obama said. "Here’s how much two years of college will cost P-Tech students and their families: nothing. It’s a ticket into the middle class."
The president got a tour of Pathways in Technology Early College High School, known as P-Tech, and met with a group of 15 students who were the first to pass a college-level course. P-Tech is a six-year career and technical school that offers students the chance to earn college credits in the computer sciences. Principal Rashid Davis explains the model here.
In shirt sleeves and cracking jokes, Obama seemed comfortable to be in Brooklyn, where he lived for a short time.
"When I was living here, Brooklyn was cool, but not this cool," he said.
Amaru Lewis, a junior, said that if there were one thing he wanted the president to learn from his visit, it's how P-Tech students push themselves to do better.
"Here at P-Tech, we're competing against the best part of ourselves," said Lewis. "We're not competing against each other."
Before Obama arrived, Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the audience, remarking that creating P-Tech would not have been possible without his administration's practice of closing low-performing schools and opening new choices.
Principal Davis also spoke, and noted that people may question why the president was celebrating a school that hasn't yet graduated its first class.
"We have proof that when equity and access are provided to under-represented populations, we can rise to the occasion and compete with their peers," he said. "When our first 15 students, who at the end of their ninth grade year passed a college-level course at a higher percentage than the college students who not only had a high school diploma and more life experience, we knew that we were at the beginning of a movement."
Obama also praised Davis as the coolest looking principal in the country, sporting "dreadlocks and yellow kicks."
The political purpose of the visit was clear when the president derided gridlock in Washington. "I just sat in on a lesson called 'Real-World Math,' which got me thinking: Is it too late to send Congress here?"
He said Congress had its priorities wrong. "If you think education's expensive, wait til you see how much ignorance costs," he said.
After the speech, students expressed their excitement and awe as they filed out of the auditorium.
"I have no words, I have no words," said Eyanna Whitfield, who was standing with her girlfriends -- a close knit group in a school that is about 75 percent boys. She said she and her friends did their best to try to dress professionally for the day.
Kyanna Moore, a freshman, said it felt validating to have the president visit her high school.
"For everybody to know that your school is going far and it's something new and different -- it's like, wow, my school is getting noticed."
For more on the P-Tech model and whether it's a solid model for training workers for the future economy, check out this Money Talking report.