A hundred people lined up along East Parson Road to watch President Barack Obama’s motorcade go by, and another 500 crammed into the gym at Manor New Tech High to hear Obama praise it as the kind of school that more American teens should attend.
Longtime residents of the town of 5,000 in east Travis County were not about to miss it.
“Manor has had its ups and downs,” said Johnny Velasco, a former school board member who was in the crowd that watched Obama speak. “At one time our high school was rated unacceptable, but I knew this day would come. I knew something special was coming to Manor and that would be Manor New Tech High. He said big things happen in little towns, and he’s right.”
Students started gathering in the gym four hours before the President’s arrival. They didn’t mind standing in their slacks and button-downs, dresses and heels. They giggled and texted and shot photos of one another the entire time. They sang along with the background music, sometimes raising their hands in the air and swaying. A man who was conducting final sound checks on stage, was saying “Check. Check. Hey. Hey,” over the PA and the students were chanting back: “Heyyyy!”
The light-hearted mood carried over into Obama’s speech, as he hugged student Tevyn Washington and joked that some young teachers at New Tech could be mistaken for students.
After the speech, Obama took the time to sign 6-year-old Emmett Mueller’s arm cast. “It felt like, well, I’ve never had a president sign it in my entire life,” said Emmett, who attended with his mother, Travis County Judge Brandy Mueller.
Manor New Tech High, which largely serves low-income, minority students, has distinguished itself by graduating virtually all of them and sending most to college.
“I’m just glad all of our hard work paid off and that they realized this school is something big,” said Alexus Krotzer, a sophomore at Manor New Tech. “I didn’t do good in middle school. I was one of those kids who slacked off, but then I came here and it changed me. This school is really great and it makes a lot of things happen.”
Instead of traditional lecture-style teaching, students often work in groups as part of the school’s project-based learning model. They move around the classrooms freely and technology is a critical part of learning.
“There just aren’t enough spots for all the students who want to go to a school like this one,” Obama said. “There are too many kids in America who are not getting the same kinds of opportunities, through no fault of their own. And we can do better than that.”
Tevyn, a senior at the school who introduced Obama to the crowd, described him as a role model.
“He has showed me the impossible is possible,” said Tevyn, who plans to attend Sam Houston University this fall, and credited the school with helping him to work through his dyslexia.
“Here at this school, the teachers want us to succeed,” he said. “Before coming here, I would use my disability as a crutch and not be the person I know I can be.”
Astronomy teacher Spencer Martin said that while the excitement about the president’s visit made it difficult to get academic work done this week, it was an incredible opportunity for the students.
“It was exciting and a great honor to have him there,” Martin said. “No one here was worried about politics. We were all just excited to have the President here, regardless of what side of the aisle we’re on.”