President Obama has long maintained that education has to be one of the country's top priorities. He reiterated that theme during a recent speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights organization for ethnic minorities in the United States. Obama told the gathering that the United States was falling behind the rest of the world and urged educators to look at some public schools that were succeeding against enormous odds. He mentioned one school in particular, Medgar Evers College Prep, named after the slain civil rights leader.
This is Medgar Evers College Prep in Brooklyn, New York. It is an inner city public school that serves around 900 largely poor, African-American children. The principal is Michael Wiltshire.
"Poverty is not an excuse. And not having enough resources is an excuse. The thing is that education is the only thing that is going to liberate our students from the economic deprivation that they are in," he said.
A "No excuses" emphasis on academics is the unofficial policy of this school. All the younger students are required to attend summer school in language and sciences every year, not because they are behind, but rather to get ahead.
This is a 9th grade class in physics. Osman Abugana is the physics teacher.
"By the time they come back in September they're going to be way ahead of everybody else because of this Summer class," he explained.
The school takes even younger students. Teaching them high-school languages and sciences too. These 8th graders study eleventh grade physics.
"These are not special, gifted kids. These are regular students," added Principal Wiltshire.
STUDENT KAEYLA KERR: "I want to become a pediatric surgeon. And this school offers the courses that can help me with that in college."
Most are committed to science, but not all.
STUDENT KHEM PLAT: "I want to be a politician."
PRINCIPAL WILTSHIRE: "They rise to high expectations. You set the bar high and you give them the support to get over the bar."
Very little escapes Wiltshire's attention. This day during class, he watched and then questioned a boy about what he was studying. After class was over, he called over the teacher, telling him to contact the boy's parents.
"I was not pleased with that student because he had not completed the problem that the teacher had put on the board," he said. "And, it is imperative that all students do everything that has been taught to them or they have been told to do in class."
And the results are impressive.
"What has happened over the past eight years, our graduation rate has moved from 60 percent to 93 percent," he noted.
Still, the entire school was surprised when President Obama told the NAACP it should take note of Medgar Evers Prep.
OBAMA AT NAACP CONVENTION: "We also have to explore innovative approaches, [innovations like] Bard High School Early Collegian, Medgar Evers College Preparatory School that are challenging students to complete high school and earn a pre-Associates Degree or college credit in just four years."
STUDENT JOSETTE GUTHIE: "It was amazing to know that me, Josette Guthie, just an ordinary girl from Brooklyn, I go to such a wonderful school that the President knows about and acknowledges."
PRINCIPAL WILTSHIRE: "It's really not about how much money you have. It's how you can spend the money that you have. How creative are you, in terms of creating the kind of programs that will benefit the students [most]."
But will this school be able to continue to turn out high-quality graduates in this time of cutbacks and economic crisis? That remains the question.