The assignment for the 11th grade class yesterday at Mapleton Expeditionary School for the Arts in a north Denver suburb was to examine Michelle Obama's speech from the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, and describe whether or not her words sparked a personal connection.
In art class, students were to draw Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain based on a sketch, but with a twist: to copy the portraits upside down.
Students at Mapleton, or MESA, as it's called, are probably more politically engaged than most kids their age. They live in the city that is hosting the Democratic convention. Their school received a visit in June from Sen. Obama. And their principal, Michael Johnston, is an adviser on education policy to the Democratic nominee.
But spend a morning at the school, and it's clear these kids and their families have the same problems and same worries as others in the working and middle classes--whose votes are being courted by both candidates. Johnston, the principal, says his 520-student school that serves grades 7-12 has been particularly hard hit by the mortgage- foreclosure crisis.
During a class discussion about Michelle Obama's speech, 16-year-old Aspen Gelski said her family often lives paycheck to paycheck, and her mother was on the fence as to whom she would vote for--until Obama came to her school. "That made her really believe in him--that he cared," Gelski said.
Cindy Huynh identifed with Michelle Obama's call to help single mothers. "My mom is a single mother, and she's on her own," she said.
And perhaps ED in '08 should hire Abdul Zulali as a spokesman. He said education is an important issue to him, because "with education, you can break out of that cycle." And on the candidates, he said:
"I do hear him [Obama] talking about education, whereas, I'm sorry, I forget his name," said Zulali, prompting several students to remind him that the presumptive Republican nominee is John McCain. "I don't hear him talking about that."
On our visit to the school on the day Obama received his historic nomination, we also talked to some 8th graders who will have to wait until 2016 before they can vote in a presidential election. But they are still excited about this election. We hope to have video of them up soon.
--Michele McNeil and David J. Hoff