President Obama encourages Douglas County students to ‘dream big dreams’
DENVER – Pioneer Elementary preschool special education teacher Leslie Gresham had no idea that a simple letter to the president would result in a personal visit by Mr. Obama and a chance to tell him about early childhood education efforts here in Douglas County School District (DCSD).
Gresham, the 2013 DCSD Early Childhood Educator of the Year, wrote the president following his 2013 State of the Union Address, thanking him for voicing his support of early childhood education. She was surprised when she received a note back from President Barack Obama.
“I got a response back,” Gresham explained. “ It said, ‘Thank you for your support. As long as I’m in office, I’ll continue to support teachers and children and early childhood education.”
She framed the letter and counted herself lucky. Little did she know just how lucky.
This summer, she was astonished when she received a call from the White House. Gresham and three other letter writers from Colorado were chosen from the more than 40,000 letters the White House receives daily. The call was an invitation to dinner with the president on July 8.
Gresham figured that it would be a big event, and if she was fortunate she’d be in the corner and might get a glimpse of the president. That was until she and the others were escorted to an intimate table at the Wazee Supper Club in Downtown Denver.
“We sat down, and for about an hour and fifteen minutes he sat and spoke with us,” Gresham explained.
She says the situation was surreal. While enjoying a slice of the president’s favorite type of pizza—pepperoni and sausage—the dinner party was surrounded by Secret Service agents and the entire White House Press Corps.
“They were there with lights and cameras and microphones. It was unbelievable,” Gresham said.
The president asked Gresham about what brought her into education.
“We actually talked quite a bit about my field and I was impressed with what he knew about the importance of early childhood education,” Gresham said.
They talked about the impact of teaching young children and how kids who take advantage of preschool statistically perform better in math, reading and other core subjects. Plus, she had a chance to brag about DCSD’s program, which has become increasingly aligned with the District’s educational programming.
“I talked about what we do and how the classrooms are integrated with typical kids and kids with special needs. We spoke about the [teacher/student] ratios and the skills my teammates and colleagues have across the District, and how many preschools we have in Douglas County,” Gresham said.
The president took time to thank Gresham and the others, before heading off to meet with Colorado Governor John Hickelooper.
“We took a group photo together, he shook our hands, gave us each a hug and off he went with his entourage, which was amazing to see,” Gresham said.
Just before leaving, the president jotted down a message for Gresham’s students. It simply reads, “Dream Big Dreams.”
This year, Gresham and her colleagues have decided to make it their team motto and plan to incorporate it into their work with the children.
“Politics aside, he completely supports what we do,” Gresham said