The week started as usual at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas: classes, schedules, homework. But by midweek news had come that turned the campus topsy-turvy: President Obama was going to visit for the third time Friday to tout his executive directive to offer as many as 5 million immigrants protection from deportation.
Candidate Obama first visited the predominantly Latino school during his 2008 campaign, rallying supporters with the same slogan that mobilized Latinos in massive immigration national marches two years earlier: "Si, se puede" — "Yes, we can."
In early 2013 he took the podium in the school's gymnasium to announce an effort to reform the nation's immigration system, and an audience member shouted at him, "I love you!"
On Friday the crowd burst into cheers when he took the stage again.
"Good to see you again, you were here two years ago," Obama said to an audience member Friday. "It's good to be back at Del Sol High School."
In choosing the backdrop for his speech, Obama selected a school where many students could be directly affected by his directive, which sets in motion a government program to evaluate applicants and enroll those eligible to protect them from deportation. Just over 63% of students at the school in Clark County are Latino and 13% are English-language learners, according to district data.
The school also runs a small academy for students learning English, designed to provide new arrivals to the United States with intensive language training. In Nevada, 18% of students have at least one immigrant parent living in the country illegally, the largest share in the nation, according to the Pew Research Center.
"A large population of our public students have immigrant parents here, working toward their dreams," said Laura Martin, a spokeswoman for the social justice group Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which works with high school students. "Las Vegas is a great place to come make that point."
Only juniors and seniors attended the president's speech, and the arrival of media trucks, the Secret Service and the crowds all made for a rare student experience, said Clark County School District Supt. Pat Skorkowsky.
"This is a big announcement. When he was here before, there were some things that he talked about," Skorkowsky said. "But this is a major announcement, and to be able to have it here in one of our schools is just such an amazing opportunity.... We have the opportunity to have kids be able to experience something that they would never be able to experience."
After the cheers, the students will face a more down-to-earth task related to the speech: schoolwork.
"Starting next week I'm sure that there will be, especially in our government classes and our social studies classes," Skorkowsky said. "There may even be something tied to the English classes for the kids who got to experience" it.
"We'd love them to be able to get in and dissect the words and actually look at the meaning of what he said, his phraseology in the speech, so we can determine how a candidate, a political candidate, speaks differently than just a normal person."
Panzar reported from Los Angeles and Memoli from Las Vegas.