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, â€śWe were just tired of being in the White House.â€ť 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, â€śHello, everybody.â€ť 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, â€śGood to see you guys.â€ť After shaking a number of studentsâ€™ hands, he asked, â€śDid I get everybody?â€ť No, was the reply. So more handshaking ensued.
Finally, the president and Mrs. Obama sat in green plastic chairs in front of the class. â€śThank you for having us,â€ť 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 schoolâ€™s principal. When the kids faltered in giving their teacherâ€™s name, Mrs. Obama jokingly chided that they were â€śfalling down on the job on that one.â€ť
A presidential quip
In helping explain their visit, Mrs. Obama pointed out that,â€śSasha is our second-grader." The president quipped that it is â€śquite a coincidence you are the same age.â€ť 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 â€śThe Moon Over Starâ€ť by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkey. The book is about Neil Armstrongâ€™s moon landing. A White House handout noted that â€śfor 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.â€ť
Mrs. Obama began reading, saying, â€ś I will read first, but if you find my reading so compellingâ€ť 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, â€śThatâ€™s a nice book.â€ť Then he asked who wanted to be an astronaut. One student said yes. â€śWhat else do people want to be?â€ť he asked. The replies included doctor, football player, and sculptor. One boy wanted to be president. â€śI think you might make it,â€ť the president said.
One student wanted to be a veterinarian. â€śWe had a fish. Iâ€™ve got to admit the fish died,â€ť the president said. Mrs. Obama added, â€śThe girls say we keep killing them.â€ť One girl said she wanted to be first lady. Mrs. Obama said, â€śIt doesnâ€™t pay much.â€ť
Then the president asked for questions. Why did he want to be president? â€śTo be able to help people,â€ť he said. Mrs. Obama added that â€śhe listened to his parents and teachers â€“ most of the time.â€ť
A student asked the president who were his superheroes. â€śSpider-Man and Batmanâ€ť was the response.
He was asked when it was that he first wanted to be president. He replied, â€śWhen I was your age, I wanted to be an architect.â€ť
Mrs. Obama was asked about living in the White House. â€śItâ€™s a nice house,â€ť she said. â€śIt is one of the most important houses in the country.â€ť The president said, â€śThe people own it.â€ť
The president then thanked the class. â€śYou have been terrific,â€ť he said. The school is â€śan example of how all our schools should be.â€ť He said his administration wants to make sure we are â€śduplicating that success all over the country.â€ť He noted the stimulus bill before the Senate would give the Education secretary â€śresources to reward innovative schools.â€ť
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. â€śThese are all beautiful, guys. Thank you so much,â€ť he said.
After briefly stepping out of the classroom, the Obamas returned, with the president saying, â€śwe brought some booksâ€ť for the library. Passing books out to the students, he added, â€śThese are some outstanding books here.â€ť One was â€śMr. Peabodyâ€™s Apples.â€ť
About half an hour after they arrived, the president and Mrs. Obama left the classroom as he said, â€śthank you guys.â€ť
When Obama returned to the White House, he was scheduled to give interviews to five television network reporters â€“ an audience nowhere near as adoring as the one he had just left.