Georgia may be a red state, but the City of Decatur really blew it out for President Obama on Thursday.
About 500 loud, cheering supporters greeted the president in the Decatur Recreation Center gym shortly after he visited a city preschool--one that he said exemplified how early childhood education should work.
Everybody wanted to see the chief executive. People lined the streets to watch his motorcade pass by on its way to the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center and hundreds gathered outside the rec center. Some held signs to welcome Obama, others took him to task for allowing the use of drones in Afghanistan.
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Obama started his Decatur visit by dropping into a pre-K class at ECLC and working with the students. After the rec center speech, teacher Lauren Parks described what happened.
"He walked right in and started interacting with the students," she said. Among the lessons, he replicated a sculpture using geometric shapes. When he left, "He gave a lot of hugs and high fives and fist bumps."
Meanwhile, the crowd in the gym cheerfully waited hours for Obama. Sgt. Phyllis Primus led the pledge of allegiance and Monica Nelson, a Renfroe Middle music teacher, sang the national anthem. The Rev. Nibs Stoupe of Oakhurst Presbyterian said a prayer.
About 60 Decatur teachers marched in and received a big round of applause as they took their places on tiers behind the podium, creating a human backdrop for the president's speech.
People waited a little more and Mary McMahon, teacher of the year at the ECLC, took the podium and introduced the president. “I hope he had as much fun as we did. We had a blast," she said.
Obama bounded up the steps to the podium and the gym exploded in cheers and applause.
In his speech, Obama referred to his class visit, saying,
So at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center that I visited earlier today, nearly 200 little kids are spending full days learning in classrooms with highly qualified teachers. And so I was working with them to build towers and replicate sculptures and sing songs. And, look, I’ve got to admit, I was not always the fastest guy on some of this stuff. The kids were beating me to the punch. But through this interactive learning, they’re learning math, writing, how to tell stories.
The president acknowledged a few people at the beginning of his speech: U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, Decatur Mayor Jim Baskett, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the Decatur School Board.
When he finished, Obama came down from the podium and gladhanded people in the crowd for about five minutes.
The president's visit seemed to go smoothly and adhered to the schedule created by the White House. He landed at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, visited the ECLC and the gym and headed back to Dobbins. Altogether, he spent about three hours in Georgia.
Corurtney Burnett, the spokeswoman for the City Schools of Decatur, said the system got word about a week ago that Obama might visit Decatur as a way to promote his early education initiative, which was mentioned in the Tuesday night State of the Union address. The visit was confirmed Sunday.
The school system immediately sent messages to the parents of pre-K parents, telling them about the president's visit. The school system is on winter break, but the pre-K students and staff came back one day for the president. Burnett said few pre-K parents passed up the chance.
Preparations at the gym have been going on for days. The city borrowed blue floor coverings from Decatur High to protect the gym floor, said Assistant City Manager David Junger. The White House took care of logistics and provided all the extra bleachers, lighting, sound system and even the generators, he said.
This was no day to disrespect the law. Besides the Secret Service agents around the president, a full array of uniformed law enforcement officers made themselves obvious.
A team of DeKalb County motorcycle officers led the president's motorcade. Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker said the city also got help from the DeKalb police and sheriff's office, the Cobb County police, the DeKalb solicitor's and district attorney's office, the Doraville police and other agencies. The city had to pay overtime to about 20 of its own officers, Booker said.
Obama's Visit Excites Decatur