NASHVILLE - President Obama traveled to a Nashville, Tenn., high school today on the final leg of a post-State of the Union tour that took him across four states in two days. And here, with a recent shooting tragedy hanging over the school, the president once again played the role of consoler-in-chief.
"I wanted to come here today because I've heard great things about this high school and all of you," the president said at McGavock Comprehensive High School on Thursday. "But I also recognize the past couple days have been hard and have tested people's spirits. Some of you lost a good friend."
"So I wanted you to know that Michelle and I have been praying for all of you in the community, and I know that all of us are sending prayers to those families that have been so directly impacted; this has been heartbreaking," he said.
Prior to the event, President Obama met with the family of Kevin Barbee, 15, who attended the school and was shot and killed earlier this week, a White House official said.
On Wednesday a sophomore at McGavock was charged with homicide for the fatal shooting of Barbee at an apartment complex. Local ABC affiliate station, WATE-TV, says the students were friends and playing with a handgun when it discharged, striking Barbee in the face, and the shooter fled the scene.
A third teenager, James Glass Jr., was present in the apartment and tried to administer CPR on his dying friend, WATE reported. Glass said he did not directly see the two interacting with the gun because he was playing a video game.
Nashville police report that although the shooter, 17-year-old Kaemon Robinson, eventually turned himself in, he declined to give a report on his arrest. The weapon had yet to be recovered as of Wednesday night.
President Obama came to the Nashville school today to highlight its focus on more professional career-oriented learning than the typical institution. Students must apply for admission to attend and, upon admittance, are allowed to focus on fields such as aviation, health sciences or law. The trip comes the same day he announced a presidential memorandum ordering the review and streamlining of federally-sponsored worker education programs at a Wisconsin General Electric plant, a goal he outlined in his State of the Union speech.
"If you're a student here, your experience is a little different from students at other high schools," he said. "Starting in 10th grade you get to choose from one of four academies that allow you to focus on a specific subject area. Local businesses are doing their part by giving students opportunities to connect the lessons you learn in the classroom with jobs that are actually out there to be filled."
"If you choose the aviation and transportation academy you get to learn how to operate a 3-D printer and work on your very own airplane. Now, that's pretty cool. I did not get my own plane until I was 47 years old. Yeah, it's a nice plane but I've got to give it back. It's a rental," added the president.
The White House says the once-struggling school has redesigned itself in recent years, "supported through a federal School Improvement Grant," now ranking in the top quartile for student achievement growth in the state.
"Schools like this one teach you everything you need to succeed in college, but because of that hands-on experience, you're able to create pathways to make sure that folks also are able, if they choose not to go to a four-year institution potentially, get a job sooner," Obama said.
The president also met with former vice president Al Gore and actress Ashley Judd prior to the event.