Obama, who still lives in Washington, made a surprise visit Tuesday to Ballou STAY High School to speak with 14 students for two hours. Upon arriving, she hugged each of them before taking her seat in the circle.
“Once she came in, it was an inspirational feeling,” said Alliyah Williams, 18. “She was so sweet and warm. She was like a mom.”
After visiting the public alternative high school in Southeast Washington, she tweeted “Always love visiting DC schools. Thank you for hosting me today @BallouSTAY. Stories of students #reachinghigher continue to inspire me.” The tweet referenced the White House initiative “Reach Higher” she launched to encourage students to continue their education.
“Mrs. Obama had an emotional and heartfelt discussion with the students,” Caroline Adler Morales, a spokeswoman for the former first lady, wrote in an email. “There were tears, laughs and lots of hugs.”
While the Obamas shared a close rapport with D.C. Public Schools, the relationship with the Trump administration has had a rocky start. Protesters greeted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when she visited a D.C. school last month. DeVos later criticized teachers, prompting the school to send 11 tweets defending itself.
The previous White House occupants are still D.C. residents, renting a house in the Kalorama neighborhood at least while their youngest daughter finishes high school.
Ballou STAY principal Cara Fuller said she learned of the visit an hour before, although the students didn’t know until Obama walked in. Students had been expecting a discussion with new D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson, so Fuller had selected the students to participate.
Fuller said the students ranged in age from 16 to 23. Four have children, some live in shelters, and others had been expelled from previous schools.
“I think she really just wanted a school and a group of students who are typically counted out to know that they themselves are amazing and wonderful and have the talents that they need to be successful,” Fuller said.