Obama Visits SEED School, Promotes National Service

The gym of the SEED School in Southeast Washington was filled with lawmakers from Capitol Hill Tuesday as President Barack Obama signed into law the Service America Act. Video by Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Post
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Burns and C streets SE used to be a perilous intersection filled with the gunfire of drug dealers roaming in old sedans. Parents kept their children off the playground in 1992 after a 5-year-old was killed in a shooting that targeted somebody else.

But in 2001, Rajiv Vinnakota brokered a deal with the District to build the SEED School, a public school and dormitory for college-bound District teenagers. Yesterday, President Obama dropped by the school to sign a $5.7 billion national service act. It triples the size of the AmeriCorps service program, from 75,000 positions to 225,000 over eight years, and expands the ways students can earn money for college.

Obama, flanked by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former president Bill Clinton, described SEED as an inspiration. The headmaster, Charles Adams, is a former AmeriCorps worker. "This school is a true success story, a place where for four of the last five years, every graduate from the SEED School was admitted to college. Every graduate," Obama said.

School officials did not shy away from praise. "In 1992, on this campus, a 5-year-old girl was shot by stray gunfire," Vinnakota said. "In 1997, the school building was set on fire, there were 25 other fires and the building was closed. In 2001, we started the SEED School, and since that time, 98 percent of our students have gone on to college."

Dressed in a blue blazer and khaki trousers, Cordell Mimms, a 10th-grader at SEED, said the event was "reinforcement that somebody really believes in you."

But the dignitaries said it was the students who inspired.

The event was attended by Capitol Hill lawmakers, former secretary of state Colin Powell and R&B star Usher, who drew more attention than the politicians.

"The fact that every child that leaves this school at least makes it to college is exceptional," Usher said. "Service has been an important part of many of our presidents' agenda, and the fact that President Barack Obama signed this bill into law is only part of the process."

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