One Sunday night in February, I was getting ready for my daughter to go to camp the next day (held in the same building as her pre-K program since school was out for the week). Ping! Up popped an email from her teacher, which I thought was odd because while we always get a weekly update, school was out.
The email shared the news - President Obama had chosen Decatur, Georgia - my city - and College Heights - my daughter's pre-K school - to visit on Thursday.
The President. Would Be Visiting. My Daughter's School.
I screamed! A lot!
Let us get this out of the way right now: I'm an unabashed Obama fan. If that bothers you, stop reading my blog. And please do not try to get political with me because that is not what this is about. Thank you.
So the real reason he was coming to Decatur was that he was also going to give a speech about universal pre-K. He'd picked my city/my kid's public school as a great example of that program working here in Georgia.
We were given very few details as the week went on. The school would reopen during vacation and all of the kids were invited to return for a full day. No parents would be allowed in after dropoff. That's pretty much it. (And yes, I was jealous for a few minutes of my five-year-old child.) Her teacher did call me though - and she asked me to add something special to her AAC device - "It's nice to meet you, Mr. President."
The day of the President's arrival (Valentine's Day!) was basically like any other school day - except with a metal detector and Secret Service agents. I was afraid that the AAC device might cause problems, but I had asked earlier and was assured it wouldn't, and it was fine. Overall, the security process was easier than going to an airport - I even got to keep my shoes on. They ran a wand very quickly over my kid - she just thought it was funny. The walker got a cursory glance. The talker was looked over and returned to me to put in its case. Everything was kept very quick and casual.
As we walked down the hall, some of the Secret Service agents noticed my daughter running with her walker and smiled and cheered her on. "Look at her go!" But we noticed that there were two VERY SERIOUS agents who did not smile or do much other than look menacing stationed outside of her classroom door. (As they should!) And there were a few other clues that the President was going to be going INTO HER CLASSROOM. There are several pre-K classes, so this was a BIG DEAL. (I found out later that it was chosen for reasons that you might not actually expect, but basically it was pretty likely just a coincidence that it was my kid's class or even an inclusion class at all - and still, it WAS my kid's class!)
I reluctantly left her in the capable hands of her teachers and then spent the day with a friend, watching for the motorcade. As it finally passed by me, after it left the school, I got a glimpse of Mr. Obama's head - he had cracked the window and was looking at us all, which was really wonderful. He wasn't buried in text messaging, phone calls, or paperwork - he was taking Decatur in. The only protesters/dissenters I saw were from PETA (they were dressed as elephants and their signs were about the mistreatment of elephants in the circus - the kids around us who were also waving at the motorcade were REALLY EXCITED to see elephants). It was one big fun party out there.
The President was taken to the rec center where he gave a rousing speech on the importance of early education - and he was introduced by my daughter's amazing teacher Mary, who happens to not only have won Teacher of the Year but also is the lead special education teacher for preschool and pre-K. I'm so happy for her and so proud and...yeah. Gushy gushgush.
And when we picked the kid up from school at the end of the day, she told us she played with sand, she mentioned the library, she gave us a thumbs up, but there was no mention of the great man she'd met. I checked the media and found lots of pictures where she's in the background (and you can see her walker in a lot of them and another classmate's Dynavox is front and center in some) - but I have been told that the press pool was only allowed in the room for a short time and then asked to leave, while the President stayed and worked with/met the rest of the kids and at some point took a group picture. The pictures from that portion of the day (taken by the official White House photographer) have not been made available to me yet, but I'm hopeful they will be someday.
The President hung out with the kids while they did "small group" work - four groups of four kids, each one focusing on another learning activity. He also attended a school assembly and according to a very brief clip I saw on the White House website, he sang and did the hand motions to the song about community that the kids always sing. So everyone in the school got to interact with him a little.
And as for my daughter specifically? She was able to greet the President with her AAC device (a Prentke Romich Vantage Lite2 for those new to my blog). He asked her name and she was able to answer. And she got a hug! And I realized that if this had all happened before she got her talker, she wouldn't have been able to do most of that. She is getting better with her verbal speech and among other things, she can say her name--and she can even say Obama. But she's hard to understand right now. Instead she was able to have a CONVERSATION. It still makes me choke up.
There are several children with IEPs in my daughter's inclusion class (and more than one who uses an AAC device). The President was also in a room with children of all economic backgrounds. Children who were born in the United States and children who were born in other countries. Children of all colors, shapes, and sizes. It's just how Decatur is. He definitely noticed - he mentioned many of these things in his speech. I hope that somehow the inclusion model made an impression on him and that maybe he will think of this experience when fighting for things like insurance reform, which affects my kid directly.
So that's how my daughter got to meet the Commander in Chief, the President of the United States Barack Obama. And yes, I'm still a bit jealous.