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Project Connect Child Development Program

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First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady During a Visit to the Project Connect Child Development Program

JUNE 4, 1998

Thank you very much. Thank you Mayor for welcoming me to thisbeautiful city. Thank you Superintendent for letting me see one of thewonderful schools in this district. I want to thank everyone who is partof the school system, especially those who are on its board, and havesheparded it to this position. I want to thank everyone connected withProject Connect, particularly its director, Lynn, who guided me around someof the projects that I was not able to see earlier with the Congressman. Iwant to thank Yolanda, for her personal testimony and now for herleadership as a teacher. I also want to thank the principal and teachersof the Hyman Fine Elementary School, and I want to thank the students whomI was able to meet earlier in the gymnasium, and I wish all of you couldhave seen them because they certainly were a picture perfect advertisementfor public education and for the mission of this school district, which asI heard the Superintendent describe it, is preparing citizens for ademocratic society. It is the most important function of public education and I want tocongratulate and salute the citizens of Attleboro for making it the missionof your school district. (Applause)

I also want to thank members of the State government, the AttleboroCity Council, the Department of Education, the State Senators andRepresentatives who were introduced, and if I'm not mistaken I believe thatthe Mayors of Worcester and Fall River might be here as well so I want towelcome them to this gathering.

I was also, I have to confess, quite taken by Jim's description of hiscommitment to family issues, because I can testify that he has cared aboutfamily issues for years. When I first campaigned for him, when he wasrunning for Congress, he was very adamant about how, as a democracy, as awonderful nation with our history of great accomplishment moving into thenext century, we had to focus on the most important citizens in ourcountry, our young people, and we had to support parents and families sothey could do a better job. But I just noticed a tinge more of passion inhis voice every since I said hello to him when I got out off the car. AndI think that Lisa and Patrick have a lot to do with that. I know that intalking with Jim or any new parent I find myself saying to them what Iheard probably a thousand times when Chelsea was 45 days old or give ortake a few months and people would say, "Oh it goes by so fast". And Iwould think "Oh, yeah right, not fast enough. When can I get back tosleep?" Now, of course, I wish I could take back all of those words, and Icould hear myself, almost against my will, when Jim was showing me thepictures that he offered all of you downstairs. I could hear myselfsaying, "Oh Jim it goes by so fast, you know, turn around and he's going tobe going out the door to college, or to work, or some other greatadventure. So enjoy every minute."

I don't think I needed to tell Jim and Lisa that because they clearlyhave a commitment to their son. Jim has taken that commitment that allparents should feel and has translated it into a real commitment to anagenda in Congress that would help every parent, and every citizenunderstand how important this work of raising the next generation is. Nowwe all know that, and we've taken it for granted. Most of the people, ifnot everyone of us in this room have worried over and been as diligent aswe knew how to be, and have worked as hard as we could in raising our ownchildren, and in being good parents, good grandparents, aunts and uncles.But clearly we have to take that personal message and commitment and takeit outside of our own homes because what happens in the schools and streetsof our country with other children, effects our children.

You know when I wrote "It Takes A Village", there were some whocriticized me and said- "Well, what is she talking about? It takesparents!" - Well of course it takes parents; I write about that in thebook. Anyone who reads it knows that I start with my own parents, and mygrandparents and how grateful I am that I had a strong family, one thatinstilled love and discipline and strong values and a sense of directionand purpose. I will be forever grateful to my family.

But my parents also understood that other forces and people would havean impact on the lives of my brothers and me. That's why when my fathergot out of the service at the end of World War II and looked around for aplace to raise the family that he and my mother were starting, they movedto a suburb, where they would pay higher taxes for better schools, wherethey would pay higher taxes for recreation facilities. So that thechildren that they were having and all of the children in our neighborhoodwould be given a sense of belonging, and something to do during the day,and adults to be their role models in the school and in the playground andthroughout our lives.

My parents understood, as the people of Attleboro understand, that itis a community venture. Certainly the primary responsibility and by farthe greatest influence on any child is that child's family. And any parentthat doesn't recognize that and do all that he or she can do to fulfillthose obligations is letting that child down and turning his or her back onthe most sacred responsibility any of us have.

But at the same time we can't do it alone. My daughter will eat foodthat is examined by people I'll never meet, and I just hope to goodnessthey've done a good job. My daughter will drink water that is theresponsibility of people who test it and put it into our water systems, andI trust that they're on the job. My daughter will go places and be placeswhere police protection and fire protection are critical to her safety.And I trust that all the adults with that responsibility will be there onthe job. My daughter will live in a community in years to come that willhave to rely on the entreprenurial spirit of the business leaders to createjobs and provide economic opportunity, and we want to be sure they're readyfor the challenges of the future.

Just looking around any city, whether it's Attleboro, or Fall River,or Worcester or Boston, we know that it takes a community that isconnected, a community that cares about its citizens, a community that, notto sound corny, tries to live by the golden rule. A community that triesto say, you know what we need to do to make it possible for everybody to besuccessful because the more others are successful, the more likely I and mychildren will be successful as well.

So what you are doing here is extremely important. And as Jim said,I'm here because I'm trying to highlight around the country success storieslike Project Connect, and the partnership you have with the Attleboroschool district, private child care centers and the private andnot-for-profit sectors in this community. Because what you're doing issending a message loudly and clearly, that we know what works.

Now, we also are realists. You know, we weren't born yesterday. Weknow that no matter how hard a family tries, no matter how hard aneighborhood tries, they are going to be problems with some kids no matterwhat. That's life. We can go back and read the Bible and know that. Butwhat we have to do is minimize the problems. We have to create conditions,in which there are fewer and fewer kids, who, for whatever reasons, go thewrong way, get into trouble, cause difficulty, take up violence to act outtheir problems against society. We're trying to minimize that. Now we'revery fortunate that in the last five years we've had a steadily decreasingcrime rate in America. I am grateful for that, and I give a lot of creditto the changed strategy that my husband and people like CongressmanMcGovern adopted. It made a difference that we put more police on thestreets, that we took assault weapons off the streets, that we had theBrady Bill that prevents people who shouldn't have guns from getting guns, and that we had community policing so that we could create a situationin which we diverted more kids from crime, where we had more adults whowere interacting with kids. And it starts, as you heard the Congressmansay, it starts with a commitment to parent education, to supportingparents, to helping people like Yolanda make the right decisions by givingher the support that she needs, and by having a whole community standbehind the mothers and fathers who are raising our children.

Now Jim McGovern understands that, which is why he's been a staunchsupporter of thePresident's child care initiative. He has introduced a piece oflegislation called "The Early Learning and Opportunity Act" -- which inmany way has modeled on what's happening right here in Project Connect.

He's also been a champion for expanding Head Start -- which we knowmakes a difference in the lives of many families and children. We've seensome real increases in the number of young children who can be enrolled inHead Start and Jim has done invaluable work in making that happen, and Iwant to publicly thank him here in Attleboro.

I think what Jim's larger message is, and what the message of ProjectConnect is, is that we have a system that you've put together here that canbe and should be replicated throughout Massachusetts and throughout thecountry.

In fact, there are model programs like this scattered throughout thecountry. Just last week I with one of Jim's colleagues, CongresswomanTauscher, in the Walnut Creek Valley area outside of San Francisco, where aschool district in connection with a non-profit foundation was puttingtogether after school programs. I have seen programs that work, literallyfrom one coast of our country to the other. So, I know that we understandwhat needs to be done. But we still have some convincing to do with somepeople who honestly believe that the community has no stake in helpingfamilies, that it truly is every family for itself, and that only parentscan be and should be responsible and that if you can't make it on your own,there's something wrong with you. I think that's a very unrealisticassessment of what's happening in our country and in this world today.

You know it used to be that we had informal networks of peoplesupporting each other, family member in large extended family settings andneighbors all there kind of providing their own Project Connect. But itwas also in many respects a simpler time. There were lots of jobsavailable, as any of us could attest, for hard working people who didn'tneed a whole lot of education.

I was in Chicago yesterday, where I was born, and I was thinking ofall the factories that used to be in that city, and there were jobs therefor new immigrants and for people from the South who came up to find theirfortune. All they had to do was to show up on time, and put in a verylong, hard days work, and they could make a good living for themselves andtheir families.

There aren't many of those jobs left anymore, are there? The jobsthat the new economy demands and you know so well here in Massachusettsbecause you've been going through this transition, successfully. But it'sbeen a hard one; places in this Congressional district that used to havegreat mills that employed hundreds and thousands of people, some of yourparents and grandparents, and great-grandparents are no longer operating,we know that. There are new jobs, that have new demands, and people haveto be more involved with teamwork and collaboration in the new workplace.

Now, all of that may sound like it's kind of economic and abstract butit's directly related to what you're doing here, and I want to congratulateyou because when I saw those young children in Project Connect, I knew thatyou were helping to shape those future citizens of a democracy, thosefuture workers in a new economy, those future parents of the children ofthe 21st century. There isn't any more important job.

That's why what the President has proposed on two fronts is soimportant. You heard Jim talk about the President's proposal in childcare. You know I have found in the last several years that lots of times,when Americans hear the President propose something as they heard him inthe State of the Union, talk about what he wanted to do to support earlychildhood development and after school care, and parent education, thekinds of things you're doing, that sometimes Americans think--well thePresident has said it, that means it's going to happen--. When I was inCalifornia last week, there was a distinguished panel, the schoolSuperintendent, and some teachers, and a principal, and some communityactivists. And one of the School officials said, "You know we can't waitto get our share of the 20 billion dollars the President proposed." Isaid, well there's a little hitch before you get that, its called theCongress. You have to convince a majority in the Congress to pass thisproposal. And this person was quite surprised because I think he thought that , well you know thePresident said that we were going to get this money, we could expand thisprogram in after school care and of course you have to convince yourelected representatives to do just that. I hope its something that thiscommunity will pay some attention to. You already have very strong supportin your Congressional delegation. So write to your friends and neighborsoutside of Massachusetts and see if you can persuade some of them topersuade their elected representatives.

The President also proposed some significant changes in education.The President wants, just as he argued for a 100,000 new police of thestreet to fight crime, he wants a 100,000 new teachers in the classroom tolower class size. So that we get more teacher/student interaction.(Applause)

Any of you who are associated with Project Connect, or any of you whoare teachers or have been teachers in the last 10 to 15 years know howsignificant it is to get more time with individual students. Especiallynow because so many students bring so many needs to school. And its notjust poor kids who bring those needs because of the breakup of families, orbecause of what kids see on television,. Kids from all classes and walksof life, and every race and background are coming with all kinds of thingsgoing on in their little lives at home that require more adult help andsupport. And its impossible to do if you've got so many kids you canbarely get around to them once a day. So we do need lower class size.

I know it might be hard for you in Attleboro, in this beautifulschool to imagine, but I've been in school buildings in our country whereliterally the ceiling is falling down, where the windows are broken andtaped, where the toilets don't work, where there are whole sections of theschool that are just blocked off, where the environment is unsafe,unhygienic for both students and teachers. And I think to myself, how onearth can we say with a straight face to a child, you're the most importantperson to us. Now come into this school, but be careful you don't falldown the stairways which aren't guarded, be careful that the plasterdoesn't fall on your head, but you're really important to us.

Most kids that I've been around are a lot smarter than that. Andthose children I saw in Project Connect would figure that out in a minute.They were getting what we call a double message, aren't they.

So we do need to do something to repair a lot of our older schoolbuildings. In rapidly growing districts, we need to help provide moreschool buildings because there are too many kids who have now gone theirentire elementary and high school years in trailers in a lot of our fastgrowing districts. And that too is not a sign that we take the importanceof education very seriously.

Now, I just want to add that my belief about the importance of earlychildhood, which you share, is one that I think is getting greater andgreater currency because of scientific research. I remember about 18 or soyears ago, being with my husband and Chelsea was a baby and we werecampaigning because you know that my husband has run for office a lot oftimes. In Arkansas he had to run every 2 years, sometimes a primary, arun-off election, and a general election. I've told him that I think hehas run for office more than any person in the history of the world. Wewould be out meeting people and talking to them and I remember going up toa group of women holding infants in their arms and hanging on to theirtoddlers and I was just making conversation, and I said I bet your havingthe best time with those babies and I bet your really having a good timetalking to them because I, of course, talked and sang to Chelsea becausethat what my mother had done for me and told me to do. And I remember theblank looks on these women's faces; one woman said to me, why would I talk toher, she can't talk back? Well there were a lot of people who hadn't beentalked to, or read to, that's not the way they were raised, and they justhonestly didn't know that that was something that would make any differencein a child's life.

Well now we know that it literally creates brain cell connections.That as you're holding that baby, you're stroking that baby, you're talkingto that baby-- just as Lisa has been doing with Patrick--you are actuallygrowing that child's brain.

We didn't know that, but now we do. So now, even those who were notinterested in little babies before, or didn't think it made that muchdifference. I can remember years ago a young man I went to school with wasexpecting his first baby and, unlike Jim, he wasn't really tuned into this.And I said, well I bet you're going to have a great time with that baby.He said I'm going to wait until he can throw a ball and then I'll get toknow him.

Well those days are over. We know that both mothers and fathers havea lot to do in creating what happens with that baby. And business leaders,and political leaders have a real stake in making sure parents get the bestpossible support they can get to be good parents. So, I hope that the workyou are doing here in Project Connect will continue to flourish and affectthe lives of children and families here in Attleboro. But I also hope thatwhat you are doing will spread wide and far and that maybe because of thisvisit some people will come and visit with Lynn or Yolanda or some of theother members of Project Connect or the school district and say, tell usabout this, and you'll be able to give them a hand. And then I do hopethat the President's child care bill will pass so that there will be somefunding that will serve as incentives for schools and communities to dowhat you have done.

But I think the most important ingredient in your success, andI saw it as I sat up here and listened to the speakers, are the people whoare in this audience. I felt like I was at a pep rally for early childhoodlearning and education (Laughter/Applause). I could tell from your prideand your applause and your standing ovations, of the accomplishments of thepeople that were up here before me. You do have the kind of commitment tothis city and its children that I want to see throughout America.

You know I've done a lot of traveling in the last couple ofyears. It has been a great, great privilege. I've gone with my husband;I've gone on my own representing our country. And everywhere I go, whetherits the former Soviet Union into those new democracies or Africa, or SouthAmerica, I wish I could take every American with me. I would like for youto see and hear how we are viewed. How people think about us. Howgrateful they are that we've represented fundamental values--that startedright here in Massachusetts--of freedom and opportunity. And they'reconstantly saying to me, America is so important, America has to continueto lead. And I think to myself, we have so many blessings in this country.And particularly now with this good economy that we have been blessed withfor a number of years. What are we going to do with these blessings?

You know we are not very far off now from a new century and a newmillennium. When that new century and new millennium come, it will be atime for most of us to at least give a passing thought to how extraordinaryit is to live at this moment in time. To think of how different our worldis than it was 1000 years ago. And how different our country was just 100years ago. And the President has asked us to think about the gifts we cangive to the future. How will we mark the millennium? Well some peoplewill do very grand things. Yesterday in Chicago a major Americancorporation called Sara Lee, gave 100 million dollars worth of art to artmuseums all over our country. A very grand and important gesture. But Ithink equally important to the future of our country is what you are doinghere, because you are giving a gift to the future by investing in thechildren and families of Attleboro. And in years to come, the heath andsuccess of this community will be enhanced because of what you did. Ibelieve people will look back and say thank you to the far sighted citizensof this community for understanding what really matters. Thank you verymuch.

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