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Student teacher brings a fourth R to class: royalty

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It's a tradition at Maplewood Elementary for two students to journey to the principal's office each morning, lean in toward the microphone, and lead their peers in the pledge of allegiance and the school song.

Recently, in this small town near Missouri's Ozark plateau, a pair of Judy Christoff's third-graders began with a royal flourish, sending a startling greeting through the public address system. "E karo!" they declared, or "good morning" in the native tongue of their student teacher - who just happens to be a princess.

Indeed, Nigerian Taiye Olagbegi-Tokun, a thirty-something senior at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is a child of the late King Olateru Olagbegi.

She grew up with her numerous siblings (the king had some two dozen wives) in a walled compound in Owo - a sort of city-state loosely affiliated with the Yoruba tribe - which included a palace, a church, a school, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and squash courts.

When Ms. Christoff announced at an open house for parents the day before school started that her new student teacher was actually Her Royal Highness, everyone asked the same question: What is she doing in Dittmer?

"I thought it was closer to St. Louis," says the princess with a sheepish grin. Instead, it turned out to be on the fringe of the city's farthest-flung suburbs.

Ms. Olagbegi-Tokun left Nigeria to see the world in 1989, and, aside from a brief stop in Chicago, she has been in St. Louis ever since. She is married to a fellow Nigerian who's in the pharmaceutical business, and they have a young daughter. One reason they settled in St. Louis is to be close to her twin sister.

Olagbegi-Tokun chose Maple Grove for student teaching almost at random. Everyone at the school seems happy she did. "She's wonderful. The kids love her," Christoff says. "I've been spoiled. I won't take another student teacher unless she's a princess."


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