A mid-afternoon visit to a second-grade classroom must have brightened what was a tough day for President Obama.
Barack and Michelle Obama climbed into their limo Tuesday shortly after the news broke that presidential friend and political mentor Tom Daschle was dropping out of contention for the post of secretary of Health and Human Services due to tax troubles.
School officials knew the president and first lady would visit, but the destination was kept secret from the press and public until the motorcade arrived at the school.
Tired of the White House
In explaining his visit to the class, the president said, “We were just tired of being in the White House.” Only the hardest of hearts could fail to sense the joy in the faces of the 25 admiring children who greeted the Obamas.
The first couple entered the white-walled, blue-carpeted classroom with the president saying, “Hello, everybody.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan trailed them into the classroom.
Mr. Obama, dressed in a blue suit, white shirt, and blue tie, walked around the classroom shaking hands saying, “Good to see you guys.” After shaking a number of students’ hands, he asked, “Did I get everybody?” No, was the reply. So more handshaking ensued.
Finally, the president and Mrs. Obama sat in green plastic chairs in front of the class. “Thank you for having us,” Mr. Obama said. He then recognized various school officials. Mrs. Obama, dressed in a black outfit and tall black boots, led the applause for the school’s principal. When the kids faltered in giving their teacher’s name, Mrs. Obama jokingly chided that they were “falling down on the job on that one.”
A presidential quip
In helping explain their visit, Mrs. Obama pointed out that,“Sasha is our second-grader." The president quipped that it is “quite a coincidence you are the same age.” Mrs. Obama asked for each student to each give his or her name.
According to the White House, the charter school was founded in 2000 by a group of Washington public school parents working with teachers and other education professionals interested in reform. The building the Obamas visited serves 244 students in Grades Pre-K through 8. The student body is 39 percent African-American, 24 percent Latino, and 34 percent white. More than half the students qualify for reduced-price lunch. Student achievement in the school ranks in the top one-third of D.C. public schools.
A story about possibilities
After pleasantries, the president and Mrs. Obama began to read “The Moon Over Star” by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkey. The book is about Neil Armstrong’s moon landing. A White House handout noted that “for the young protagonist of this lyrical and hopeful picture book, that landing is something that inspires her to make one giant step toward all of the possibilities that life has to offer.”
Mrs. Obama began reading, saying, “ I will read first, but if you find my reading so compelling” she would continue. The president sat on the left facing the class, Mrs. Obama on the right, and they held the book up together so the class could see the illustrations. After Mrs. Obama read for three minutes, the president began reading. The class sat quietly with little fidgeting. Three adults sat on the floor with the kids.
When the story was over, the president said, “That’s a nice book.” Then he asked who wanted to be an astronaut. One student said yes. “What else do people want to be?” he asked. The replies included doctor, football player, and sculptor. One boy wanted to be president. “I think you might make it,” the president said.
One student wanted to be a veterinarian. “We had a fish. I’ve got to admit the fish died,” the president said. Mrs. Obama added, “The girls say we keep killing them.” One girl said she wanted to be first lady. Mrs. Obama said, “It doesn’t pay much.”
Then the president asked for questions. Why did he want to be president? “To be able to help people,” he said. Mrs. Obama added that “he listened to his parents and teachers – most of the time.”
A student asked the president who were his superheroes. “Spider-Man and Batman” was the response.
He was asked when it was that he first wanted to be president. He replied, “When I was your age, I wanted to be an architect.”
Mrs. Obama was asked about living in the White House. “It’s a nice house,” she said. “It is one of the most important houses in the country.” The president said, “The people own it.”
The president then thanked the class. “You have been terrific,” he said. The school is “an example of how all our schools should be.” He said his administration wants to make sure we are “duplicating that success all over the country.” He noted the stimulus bill before the Senate would give the Education secretary “resources to reward innovative schools.”
A quick sales pitch
After delivering his sales pitch for the stimulus plan, the president had the class line up for a picture with him and Mrs. Obama. The class then presented the president with artwork they had made. “These are all beautiful, guys. Thank you so much,” he said.
After briefly stepping out of the classroom, the Obamas returned, with the president saying, “we brought some books” for the library. Passing books out to the students, he added, “These are some outstanding books here.” One was “Mr. Peabody’s Apples.”
About half an hour after they arrived, the president and Mrs. Obama left the classroom as he said, “thank you guys.”
When Obama returned to the White House, he was scheduled to give interviews to five television network reporters – an audience nowhere near as adoring as the one he had just left.