‘Race To The Top Commencement Challenge’ Finalists Announced

Six high schools from across the United States will compete to have President Obama give a speech at their facility.

Last year, students of Michigan’s Kalamazoo Central High School got a graduation present they’ll likely never forget: a commencement speech by President Obama. The school beat out nearly 1,000 other contenders in the 2010 “Race to the Top Commencement Challenge,” a competition that aims to find the public high school that best prepares its students for college and beyond.

This year, a new batch of schools is contending for the top prize, and on Friday the White House, which launched the competition last year in partnership with Viacom, MTV’s parent company, and the Get Schooled program, announced its 2011 finalists.

Six schools from across the nation are in the running: Bridgeport High School (Bridgeport, Washington); Wayne Early Middle College High School (Goldsboro, North Carolina); Booker T. Washington High School (Memphis, Tennessee); Science Park High School (Newark, New Jersey); Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, School for Creative and Performing Arts (Pittsburgh); and High Tech High International (San Diego). To be considered, students had to nominate their educational facilities by submitting an application with essays and statistics to demonstrate how their school was preparing them for college and career readiness.

“I’m looking for a school that understands the number one priority is making sure that our kids are learning what they need to succeed in this 21st century economy,” President Obama said in a recent statement.

The Race to the Top finalists will now work with the White House, the Department of Education and Viacom’s Get Schooled foundation to create short videos, which will be featured on WhiteHouse.gov and voted on by the public. According to the White House, about 170,000 people weighed in on last year’s contenders. The top three vote-getters will then be submitted to President Obama, who will select a winner.

Last year, students from Kalamazoo Central High School beat out their competitors with their video “We Are the Giants,” which featured a compelling mix of spoken word, personal narratives and statistics about the school’s success.

The nearly 300 graduating seniors at the school were rewarded with not only the first-ever high school commencement speech by President Obama, but also an unannounced meet-and-greet prior to the address at a pre-commencement ceremony.

“This day has changed our lives,” one Kalamazoo student said at the time.

Get Schooled is a national program aimed at increasing high school and college graduation rates and promoting the importance of education, developed by Viacom in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.