YourTurn winners: Advice for President Obama's second term

Raho (Rahma) Warsame, first place
William Anema, second place
Bradley Peterson, third place
The great Malcolm X once said, “Being born here in America doesn't make you an American." Rather, you are your country when you make her proud. So turning the blame on immigrants is unfair. We come for better lives, many of us escaping the unthinkable and enduring pains never experienced in this land.

Editor’s note: President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second four-year term in January. From Congressional leaders to high-priced lobbyists, people are constantly telling him what to do. We wanted to give students a chance to offer him some of their best advice.

After sifting through 116 thoughtful submissions about how the President could improve education, create more jobs, handle immigration and keep neighborhoods safe, volunteer judges chose the following three essays as the strongest. The top 10 essays were snail mailed to the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken.

First place ($100 prize)

Raho (Rahma) Warsame
Merc High School

Judges notes: “(This essay) grabs the reader by the throat and tells a truth with a clear voice that stands apart. (Rahma) … speaks out with a style, clarity and voice that is like nothing else submitted. This essay rocked me back on my heels with its force.”

Dear Mr. President,

Many Americans blame their economic crisis on immigrants. They believe that we immigrants come here, eat and spend government money with no regard to what effect it has on the country’s economy. I am here to state otherwise. Immigrants are the ultimate example of why one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. What these people do not realize is that we make America strong.

A nation without people is not a nation. We immigrants make America defined, strong and known. We are more hardworking than Americans and are always striving to make our lives better. See, we are not here to pursue ‘The American Dream,’ but rather live our own and take care of our loved ones. That is why so many immigrants work more than one job.

America had a choice, and she chose to welcome the immigrants. The immigrants are grateful; they are strong-minded beings and begin to strive the minute the plane lands. America is made of the entire human race. To get here though, we struggle, we fall, we’re hurt, we’re imprisoned, we starve, and we die. But for those of us that cross the bridge, it wasn’t easy. Every time we fell and scraped our knees, we got up again. Every time we got knocked down, we stood back up. And every time they counted us out, we got back in. Yes, some of us did not struggle like the rest, but we all had our days of pain.

The great Malcolm X once said, “Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.” Rather, you are your country when you make her proud. So turning the blame on immigrants is unfair. We come for better lives, many of us escaping the unthinkable and enduring pains never experienced in this land. So Dear America, what have we done to your land? You will highly disagree with this statement, but you, I and every American are all immigrants. We make up this land, but represent different kinds. Before me was you, and before you were the Natives. And before that, what we now call America was an unclaimed and unknown land.


Second place ($50 prize)

William Anema
Minnehaha Academy

Judges notes: “It is evident that William has thought his position out very carefully, and truly believes in the power of a teacher’s ability to inspire. The watermelon imagery serves as a nice thread that helps the reader understand the point he is making.”

My teachers are good at their jobs. At least so far. I wake up every day, not necessarily loving the idea of going to school, but knowing that my teachers want to be there and have something planned for their students. Many schools aren’t like mine.

Mr. President, the one thing you could do to improve communities across the nation is to inspire kids to learn through their teachers. An inspiring teacher can improve lots of students’ lives.

Educating someone who doesn’t want to learn is as difficult as trying to fit a whole watermelon in your mouth. You might graze the surface, but in the end nothing is getting into your head. Wanting to learn is a choice, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t force that choice on people. What you can do is make the situation as likable as possible, which starts with students’ teachers. A school could have only a blackboard and a stub of chalk, but with a good teacher that wouldn’t matter. If the teacher truly engages the students and is good at what he or she does, the students might just make that choice to swallow some watermelon.

To make a good teacher, you have to be qualified. Unfortunately, that isn’t all. The teacher has to be motivated to make kids grasp the concepts that will help them later on. For this to happen, the teacher has to actually like the kids he or she teaches. Not all of them, of course. I can’t say all of mine have enjoyed my presence. The teacher should like children in general, but also be able to teach the ones that the teacher doesn’t care for. So the teacher should also be good with kids. There’s a huge difference between liking kids and being good with kids.

Well, the question now is: How do I find teachers with these standards?

After triple-checking that the teacher is qualified, you have to look for other things such as past experience with kids or past teaching experiences. What isn’t being done is the extra step of checking with organizations that teachers have worked for. Talking to past co-workers that might have shocking stories about how uninspiring the teacher has been. Looking at the teacher’s dedication to their work. Who might be doing all this work? The solution is to have a position in every major public school for the sole purpose of finding and hiring good teachers.

We all should want good teachers in schools. Then, after a while, those exceptional teachers will be teaching future teachers and the process will continue. More kids will be inspired to learn more and find what they’re good at and what they enjoy. It all starts with stopping kids from choking on that huge watermelon and cutting it up into pieces for them to ‘eat’.

Third place ($30 prize)

Bradley Peterson
Spectrum High School

Judges notes: “(Bradley) raises an interesting argument. He writes with a conviction, confidence and honesty that is different from any other submission. The consistency of his position has a unique rawness to it.”

Dear Mr. President,

With all due respect, sir, I believe that you could be doing a better job in regard to the current education problem that faces our great nation today. Seeing how far our nation’s technological and scientific advancements have come – even in the past few years – and then going to school and seeing intelligent children who don’t want to succeed, it makes me worried about my own generation and what will happen when we are the leaders of the United States.

I see our nation’s public schools dropping their standards for learning every day. Now, to be honest, I do have a bit of a bias because I grew up going to a private Catholic school from kindergarten through fifth grade. However, I still find it rather depressing that I learned subject matter in a public high school in the ninth and tenth grades that I already learned while I was in the fourth and fifth grades in a private school. The fact that students don’t even take Algebra until the ninth grade, in my opinion, is preposterous.

Now, I do realize that not every child is particularly gifted, or even has a drive to learn, but I still say that the standard for learning in the United States of America should be higher. The children that actually want to learn are being held from their true potential by the students that do not want to learn. It may seem a bit harsh, but I say let the failing students fail and stay behind, and let the successful students succeed and go onto the next grade level.

I studied developmental psychology at Stanford University, the alma mater of Presidents Herbert Hoover and John F. Kennedy. During my time there, I learned a very interesting thing about students and the education of the youthful mind. When a naturally intelligent student is engaged in a learning environment where everyone wants to succeed and excel in their studies, that student will be able to achieve his or her utmost potential. However, when a naturally intelligent student is engaged in a learning environment where some of the students want to excel and other students don’t care about learning at all, then that student will never be able to achieve his or her utmost potential. It is absolutely imperative that naturally intelligent students are engaged in learning environments where the students have a drive to excel. Otherwise, those intelligent students will not be able to go as far as they are able to go in life.

So here is a suggestion: Why not keep the students who want to excel in school, and let those students who have no drive to succeed drop out at their own leisure?

These are merely the ideas of a young fool, but I urge you to please consider them. They could spur a revolution in our education system.

A respectfully opinionated citizen of the United States,