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Students Voice Economic Woes, Catch Obama’s Attention

High school students in Pomona, Calif., articulated the struggles of millions of Americans by making a video called, "Is Anybody Listening?" about the economic hardships they have faced. KCET's "SoCal Connected" examines their story, which ends with a visit by President Obama.

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  • TOM WAITS (singing):

    So hold on, hold on.

    MICHAEL STEINMAN, teacher, Village Academy High School: I'd say the American dream is changing. You know, in the past, kids wanted material. And I think now it's more making sure we get through this together.

  • JOHN LARSON:

    If you want to hear something new about the economic downturn and something encouraging about the American spirit, listen to this high school teacher.

  • MICHAEL STEINMAN:

    Everyone has to kind of roll their sleeve up and work within their community to help one another.

  • JOHN LARSON:

    Michael Steinman teaches advanced placement language arts at Village Academy High School in Pomona. Built in an abandoned department store in a shopping mall, Village Academy High is nonetheless a state-of-the-art public high school.

  • MICHAEL STEINMAN:

    The American dream changed. Is it different now? Is it more about ideals or opportunities?

  • JOHN LARSON:

    So you were reading "The Great Gatsby," and you were talking about the American dream.

  • MICHAEL STEINMAN:

    Well, usually when you talk about the American dream, kids are into material possessions. They're into cars and jobs.

    But when I asked them about how their lives were going, they just came alive. They all had a story, whether it had to do with parents losing jobs, foreclosures, everybody had something, and they were very impassioned in telling the story.

  • JOHN LARSON:

    So the teacher asked his students to write anonymous essays about what the current economy was doing to their families, essays which took his breath away.

  • MICHAEL STEINMAN:

    And the stories I read were just absolutely riveting. I read about students who were living in little house trailers behind houses, who were eating meager amounts of food.