Much hope at dedication of Barack Obama Elementary School in Upper Marlboro

By Akeya Dickson
Thursday, October 21, 2010

The students at Barack Obama Elementary School boasted presidential manners and flashed toothy grins, eager to show off songs they learned for the school's official dedication last week.

Parents, elected officials and special guests were just as excited, filling seats, lining the walls and giving the occasional standing ovation to the inaugural student body at the Upper Marlboro school.

"It's so light and airy here, it's just such a great feeling you get," said Patricia Woodruff, 45, of Upper Marlboro. "Even the sixth-graders are so excited about coming to school, and the older kids can be a little more resistant."

Woodruff, who has three children in the Prince George's County public school system, is enthusiastic about her daughter, Michala, starting kindergarten here, citing the school's positive energy, sleek aesthetics and design.

For the parents, there have been worries along the way. This includes concerns about overcrowding because of recent budget cuts and schools consolidating. But while Barack Obama Elementary School is slightly over capacity with 798 students, Principal Pearl Harmon assuages these concerns.

"Unfortunately, we are in a budget crunch at this point, so everyone has to dive in and support the students. Although the cuts have interfered with us having 22 to 25 students per classroom, we're still providing the same quality of instruction and planning," she said. "We have pretty good master teachers who are really good at handling the amount of students in the classroom. We'd rather have teachers here who are qualified to teach rather than have smaller class sizes and teachers who aren't as qualified."

Rare opportunity

Previously a principal at Berkshire Elementary School in District Heights, Harmon was appointed to the school by the county Board of Education.

"I look at this as one of those rare opportunities. It's not often that you get to start a school from the ground up. We selected some of the best teachers and got to get the input of the staff, parents and students," Harmon said. "Some of the students participated in the process, too, and had an opportunity to select the mascot of the school, the eagle. We're starting anew, starting fresh. I guess this is destined."

Harmon said that President Obama was invited but that he was unable to attend and hopefully will visit in the future.

"I'm sure, logistically and publicity-wise, it would've been difficult, especially managing the security and with this being an event that was open to the public," she said.

The Prince George's Board of Education unanimously approved the plan to name the school Barack Obama Elementary School on June 25, 2009, about five months after he took office.

Reticence over name

This is the first school in the Washington area to be named after President Obama. There was some reticence about naming the school after a newly seated president whose legacy has yet to be established.

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