NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama made his first official visit to Brooklyn on Friday to praise an innovative high school that arms students with college credit.
Obama delivered a speech and met with students at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Crown Heights, which was born out of cooperation between the city’s Department of Education, the City University of New York and IBM.
Before President Obama took the podium, 16-year-old P-TECH student Leslieanne John sang the national anthem.
As CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported, John confessed the honor had her stomach in knots. But she still had a message for the commander-in-chief.
“Thank you for allowing my school to get everything that we’re getting right now; all the funding, all the media hype, just letting kids know about this opportunity because everybody deserves this,” she told Kramer.
During his remarks, President Obama noted that John, a junior, has already taken eight college courses.
“He kept talking about my story and I got really emotional,” she told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
Students attend the school for six years, from grades 9-14, meaning they do two years of college work in addition to the four years of high school, which have a heavy emphasis on computer science.
“You’re learning specific skills that you know leads to a good job. And, most important, you’ll graduate with a high school diploma and an associates degree in computer systems or electromechanical engineering and that means you’ll be in demand, companies will want to hire you,” Obama said.
The president said P-TECH is a smart example of a government investment that can translate directly into jobs.
“Across the country, companies like Verizon and Microsoft and Con Ed and Cisco — they saw what IBM was doing and said ‘this is a good idea, we can do this too.’ So they’re working with educators in states to replicate what you’re already doing here. And you guys should feel good about that. You’re starting something all across the country,” the president said.
By next fall, six more P-TECH-like schools will open in New York City and another 15 are planned elsewhere in the state.
As 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported, the president sat in on a class called “Real World Math” and joked that Congress should attend.
The event attracted almost the entire New York political establishment. Everyone from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio were in attendance.
Obama praised the school in his State of the Union earlier this year.
“At schools like P-TECH in Brooklyn — students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering,” Obama told both houses of Congress on Feb. 12. “We need to give every American student opportunities like this.”
The students at P-TECH were on a high.
“He’s never come to any school in Brooklyn,” 11th grader Kiambu Gall told CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell. “It’s wild.”
“To have the president acknowledge us is amazing,” said 11th grader Kevin Demosthene.
“For the president to come, it’s fantastic,” ninth grader Gerald Thompson added.
The school’s graduates have the inside track at employment opportunities at IBM.
There are 335 students at the school, which opened in a rough stretch of Crown Heights in September 2011. Most of the students hail from Brooklyn, though others live elsewhere in the five boroughs. They all are assigned a corporate mentor, according to Stan Litow at IBM, one of the architects of the idea.
“There is no admissions requirement and the overwhelming majority of students at the school are children of color,” said Litow. “Workplace skills valued by employers are buried throughout the curriculum.”
“Their achievements are already significant: a large number of students are already taking and passing college courses in the middle of 10th grade,” he said. “Every course that a student takes includes both the academic skills and the workplace skills.”
After the president’s visit to P-TECH, he and de Blasio visited the Brooklyn institution, Junior’s.
Obama bought a plain and a strawberry cheesecake to go, Kramer reported.
As a result of the president’s visit, Prospect Park was partially closed Friday afternoon.
PROSPECT PARK CLOSED FOR PRESIDENTIAL VISIT
The president’s visit caused a bit of a stir after word that all of Prospect Park would be closed to accommodate his visit.
The park, which is located two miles away from the school, was used as the landing zone for Obama’s Marine One helicopters. The president left Brooklyn by chopper en route to Manhattan just before 5:30 p.m., CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported.
“Why they need to shut the whole park down is beyond me,” said Park Slope resident Robert Caccomo.
Thursday evening, park officials clarified that only part of the park would be closed from noon to 6 p.m.
But some spent a chilly afternoon staring up at the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of Marine One landing.
“We heard that Obama’s helicopter was going to be landing and for a year-and-a-half-old, helicopters are pretty cool,” Sarah Craft told Gainer.
“It’s the President of the United States, who wouldn’t want to see him,” a man added.
“This is President Obama’s first official trip to Brooklyn and you know what? His security comes first,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
As an accommodation to those inconvenienced by the closure of Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery opened its gates to runners between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Jogging on cemetery grounds is otherwise prohibited.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to run in Green-Wood. I mean this is a great place, it’s beautiful,” runner Steve Lastoe said. “It is a hilly, hilly beast.”
“It’s quiet, no bikers,” runner Megan Dee said.
The 175-year-old National Historic Landmark cemetery for the first time opened its grounds to runners.
“I thought to keep those people, particularly the marathon people in their groove, that this was a good thing to do,” Green-Wood Cemetery president Richard Moylan said.
Obama was scheduled to attend two fundraisers in Manhattan for Democratic congressional candidates Friday evening.
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