Flag-waving students greeted Barbara Bush at Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City today as the First Lady joined ,, other federal officials in launching the "Maryland 2000" education campaign.
Top federal officials went to other schools in Baltimore and Greenbelt as part of the day's events. The Maryland campaign is based on the goal-setting "America 2000" campaign that the Bush administration announced in April to guide school reform nationwide through the year 2000.
The Maryland campaign would encourage community involvement in school reforms outlined in the state's "Schools for Success" program, which began last year.
Once inside the school, Mrs. Bush and Gov. William Donald Schaefer read a story called "Jamaica Tag-Along" to Helen Banghart's second-grade class. The students listened politely while Bush and Schaefer took turns reading and occasionally asked questions or made comments.
Schaefer, before reading, emphasized to the children how "important it is for you to learn to read," adding, "It is not beyond your ability to become president of the United States" or the wife of the president.
Mrs. Bush immediately interjected, "Or the husband," drawing laughter and applause from the assembled school staff.
After the reading, the students presented Bush and Schaefer with various gifts, including flowers made for Mrs. Bush in a school art class and a chocolate chip cookie shaped like a book for the governor with the word "Read" spelled out in icing.
The first lady also was accompanied by David T. Kearns, deputy U.S. secretary of education.
U.S. Energy Secretary James D. Watkins, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William K. Reilly and Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan also came to Maryland today to help launch the campaign. Watkins toured the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in West Baltimore, Reilly and taught a class at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, and Sullivan inspected Baltimore's Park West Medical Center.
Schaefer is spearheading the Maryland campaign and arranged Mrs. Bush's visit. Yesterday he spoke with President Bush and praised his education initiatives during a 10-minute telephone conference call that included Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.
Schaefer told the president that Maryland's top public education goals include making schools drug-free and meeting the nurturing needs of pre-school age children "so everyone starts evenly."
The president promised a bipartisan effort and jokingly cautioned Schaefer to treat his wife well during her visit: "I don't want her coming home grumpy."
School principal Betty King said "Jamaica Tag-Along" is about a girl who discovers her self-worth. "Children need not feel that they're left out," said King, describing the moral of the story. "They have something within that they have to contribute."
Worthington is part of the comparatively affluent Howard County school system, which more than most in Maryland comes closest to the objectives of President Bush and the governor.
The Bush administration initiative is built around six goals intended to increase the high school graduation rate and adult literacy, improve student competency and help prepare children for entering school.
Asking each community to adopt these goals, Bush has called for voluntary national examinations, national standards, school "report cards" to measure results, experimental schools and greater involvement by business leaders. Bush also wants parents to have a choice in selecting schools, public or private.
Watkins promised to send computers, science videos and provide Coleman teachers with summer internships in national science laboratories as part of an agreement with his department.
The Coleman school is part of Project 2000, a Morgan State University program that features all-male and all-female classrooms where role models from the community show the students that they can succeed and explain why they should stay in school. At Coleman, the segregated classes are in second and fifth grade.
Watkins endorsed Coleman's Project 2000 experiment as an important part of America 2000, the national program. He praised teacher Carter Bayton as "a national hero" for his leadership of 30 black male second-graders, whose classroom story is featured in this month's Life magazine.
Watkins used a lesson of recycling in a 10-minute lesson to Bayton's class and then went to an all-girl class of fifth graders. There he stressed the importance of learning math and science as "empowerment tools."
"I understood that if you get into math and science you can be in any field you want to," said on student, Andrea Henry, 9, who wants to be a nurse.
The National Education Association strongly criticizes features of America 2000 that could divert funding from public to private schools, such as the parental school choice idea. And the NEA, which represents two million teachers, calls for more federal spending.