Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

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Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

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Behind the scenes of President Biden’s visit to Strath Haven

What went into preparing for a presidential visit? A lot more than you would think.
Supporters listen to President Joe Biden give his campaign speech at the middle school gym, showing the transformation of the space.

It’s March 8, 2024. Joe Biden, the President of the United States, is standing inside Strath Haven Middle School’s gym, giving a speech. By the day of Biden’s visit, most were aware Biden was coming. By the time school had been dismissed, long lines stretched across the parking lot of the middle school. 

But before all of that happened, there was a phone call. On Saturday, March 2, less than a week before the event, district officials were contacted by White House members.

“We got a phone call on Saturday [March 2] requesting to visit one of our facilities from members of the White House. We [think] okay, this is a joke,” Superintendent Dr. Wagner Marseille said.

Despite the appearance of the call, after some research, the District confirmed that the caller was, in fact, a member of the White House. After a reply from the District, White House staff came to investigate.

We got a phone call on Saturday [March 2] requesting to visit one of our facilities from members of the White House. We [think] okay, this is a joke.

— Superintendent Dr. Wagner Marseille

“Sunday [March 3], they came, they walked through all of our buildings, went through the grounds, every single nook and cranny,” Marseille said. 

A day later, a second tour was conducted. “They said, ‘We’d like to come back and tour your buildings one more time’. They had narrowed it down to two buildings,” Marseille said. “They asked us a lot of questions about schedule, arrival, dismissal.”

According to Communications and Community Relations Liaison Ms. Rachel Riley, the White House was originally interested in the prospect of holding the event at Nether Providence Elementary School, but the White House team toured the entire district. No decisions were made on which space in the district would be used for the event until Tuesday, March 5. 

“With [SHMS] being a lot larger than NPE or SRS, they found [SHMS] was a better place,” Riley said.

By Monday, March 4, after the second search, the District still had not received confirmation of whether or not the event would be happening. No official confirmation would come until the following day, Tuesday. 

Despite the presidential pedigree, the White House went through the normal process of requesting the use of a facility. “They filled out a facilities form like everybody else,” Riley said.

Additionally, all control of the gym was handed to the White House. “[The White House] wanted a blank canvas. We weren’t in charge of any equipment. They bring in everything themselves, all we do is provide a space for them,” Riley said.

The White House intended to avoid disruption of the school day as much as possible. “What really impressed me about the White House was their understanding of [the disruption of a presidential visit] …  They worked with us, trying to mitigate as much disruption as possible,” Marseille said.

At that point, nobody but the district administration and the White House were aware of the visit. Some communications, however, suggested that something was up.

On Tuesday, an email was sent to middle school teachers informing them that there would be individuals walking around the building for the remainder of the week.

On Thursday, a day before the event, a tent was set up adjacent to King Field in the Middle School parking lot to make room for the presidential motorcade.

Also, on Thursday, an email was sent out to students by Principal Greg Hilden, informing them that there would be no 5th block the day of the event and that all were to leave promptly at the end of the school day. 

Still, no details were provided to students or teachers about what the event entailed.

Nonetheless, most knew something was going on. Earlier in the week, a cryptic message was sent to parents, informing them of potential road closures and the potential cancellation of after-school activities on the day of the event. 

All communication had to be approved by the White House beforehand, which was one of the reasons for the lack of communication. “I could not mention that the President was coming to our school district, even though the Philadelphia Inquirer already shared the news. They wanted everything to be last minute because it was an invite only event,” Riley said.

Despite the efforts to reduce disruption, the event was not without disruption.

All after-school activities were cancelled the day of the event, though many students were away on the band’s trip at the time.

On the day of the event itself, a number of demonstrators congregated by Providence Road before dismissal, near exits to the middle and high schools. They gathered to protest Biden’s handling of the situation in Gaza, shouting slogans such as “In November, we remember” and “Genocide Joe has got to go.” Additionally, the protesters hung posters around the area, which were removed soon after the event. 

The protesters stayed for the duration of the event but were monitored closely by the police, who informed them where they could stand.

“So unfortunately, it was out of our control, as long as the protesters were not on our property, which they were not,” Riley said.

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