Obama surprises South Shore pre-K class with presents and a story
Barack Obama — wearing a Santa cap with a red sack full of presents slung over his shoulder — smiled as he greeted the children, who were unaware that they’d be visited by the former president.
About 20 children in a prekindergarten class at Parkside Community Academy, at 6938 S. East End Ave., in South Shore squealed and cheered as former President Barack Obama arrived.
Obama — wearing a Santa cap with a red sack full of presents slung over his shoulder — smiled as he greeted the children, who were unaware that they’d be visited by the former president.
“Oh, my God,” one young student yelled in excitement as Obama entered the spacious classroom.
He took a seat near the entrance of the room and began to read “Santa’s Gotta Go” by Derrick Barnes to the students, occasionally pausing to crack a joke.
“He called Mrs. Claus babe!” Obama exclaimed after reading a section of the book as children and teachers laughed.
Obama, who was joined by Parkside Principal Tori Williams-Hughes, CPS Chief Schools Officer Felicia Sanders and CPS Network 12 Chief Shenethe Parks, made the surprise holiday visit as a way of spreading holiday cheer in the community ahead of winter break.
And he came bearing gifts. Each student in the classroom received toys, and every student at the academy got winter accessories.
“For him to take the time to come here out of his busy schedule to read a book, it just shows that he is still a leader,” Debra Gardner, a teacher at Parkside for nearly three decades, told the Sun-Times.
Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama were in Chicago for the school event and for meetings with Obama Foundation staff and board members.
The academy is not far from where Michelle Obama grew up, living with her brother and parents in an apartment at 7436 S. Euclid Ave. South Shore, along with nearby Woodlawn and Washington Park, will be neighbors of the future Obama Presidential Center, now under construction in Jackson Park. It will open in 2025.
“It’s a little new to them to really understand the magnitude of who he is and what he’s done for the country,” Williams-Hughes said.
Obama chose to visit Parkside due to its proximity to the future presidential center, according to a spokesperson with the Obama Foundation.
After he was done reading, Obama approached fourth grader Kaliyah Montgomery and told her he remembered her once asking him a question.
The Obama Foundation chose Montgomery, who attends Parkside, to read to the students because she participated in a surprise video project with her classmates that asked Obama about the presidential center.
Montgomery, who read Jodie Shepherd’s “Barack Obama: Groundbreaking President” to the students minutes before Obama arrived, said she didn’t remember what she asked Obama two years ago but that she’d go home and tell her mother about the encounter.
When he finished reading, Obama took a seat on a colorful rug with the students to pose for pictures, chanting phrases like “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy New Year” as students surrounded him.
“Who’s gonna help me get up?” Obama jokingly asked as students gathered around him and volunteered to do so. He then hugged teachers and staff and took a selfie with them.
“I just thought it was so great that they were able to listen to a story from him, and they were interactive,” Ashley Barrett, a fifth-year teacher at Parkside, said. “When they grow up, they can do something great [like] be a president.”
Contributing: Lynn Sweet