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Obama's Years: Road Trip Obama School


And here in the U.S., our colleague Steve Inskeep has been asking people about their last eight years as part of the documentary Obama's Years. One of his stops included the Barack Obama Elementary School in St. Louis, where he picks up now.

NETRA TAYLOR-NICHOLS: Good morning, good morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: OK, so everybody's coming over to give you a hug.

TAYLOR-NICHOLS: Right (laughter).

INSKEEP: Principal Netra Taylor-Nichols led us down the gleaming central hallway. Obama Elementary opened in 2010.

How many kids are here?

TAYLOR-NICHOLS: We have 401 students.


And she says all her students except one are black. We visited some students in a music class.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) Bye, bye, bye said the mama bear.

INSKEEP: Decades after legal segregation ended, many communities are still effectively segregated. In a school hallway, we met with a man who thinks Barack Obama crossed that divide. Charles Pearson is the local district superintendent.

CHARLES PEARSON: The impact of seeing a black man in a suit every single day in front of cameras - the impact that's going to have - has had on these children - is immeasurable. I was doing training as a - I do professional development around (unintelligible) engagement. And I'm in De Soto, Mo. - not many people of color there.

I'm standing in front of a roomful of about 50 people - maybe one black person in the room. The rest of them were white. These children came in, rushed in. And they froze. And them some of the teachers got up and placed them in their spots and then came back.

And then they were all in the back of the room whispering. I stopped the presentation - what are you saying? And they said, all the children rushed in and stopped and wenT - why is President Obama here talking to the teachers?

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

PEARSON: They were accustomed to seeing the image of a black man in a suit in front of people, sharing information, debating and leading. That image of them seeing this man. That's something fresh. We are yet to see the impact of that. It's going to be profound for this generation of children because children who are 8 years old - the only president they've seen is him.

INSKEEP: In a classroom filled with kids around that age, we found second-grade teacher Lisa Woods (ph) seated at her desk.

Does the name of this school matter at all to you?

LISA WOODS: Yes, it does.

INSKEEP: How so?

WOODS: Because our school represents the first African-American president. So they're going to grow up knowing that they attended the school - that that was a big time in their life. We might never see it again. I'll be honest - put it out there.

INSKEEP: Why do you think you might never see it again?

WOODS: To me, we're going backwards and not forward.

INSKEEP: Why are we going backwards?

WOODS: Because of what's going on now with Trump and Hillary. And I've never seen things like I see it today. Did anybody see the news, when the lady called the truck driver and he didn't help her? The tow truck - it was on the news.


WOODS: And he didn't help her because she had a Bernie sticker. And they were two Caucasian people, so no race issues. Mentally, where does this say we're going?


WOODS: We're going backwards as far as it relates relates to caring about people.


That's elementary school teacher Lisa Wood speaking to our colleague Steve Inskeep at Barack Obama Elementary School in St. Louis, Mo. She's one of the voices heard in our radio documentary Obama's Years. It's a special program now playing on many NPR stations and on the NPR Politics Podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.