First lady Barbara Bush visited Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City yesterday to launch a program aimed at improving education in Maryland and used the occasion to gently teach the governor a lesson about gender equality.
A second-grade class sat in rapt attention as Mrs. Bush and Gov. William Donald Schaefer took turns reading "Jamaica Tag-Along," a story by Juanita Havill.
The governor told the children that they will "always remember that the wife of the president read to you and how important it is to read."
"It is not beyond your ability to be president of the United States or wife of the president," Mr. Schaefer said.
Mrs. Bush touched the governor's hand and said: "Or husband" of the president.
In a tightly timed, and for the most part carefully scripted, two-hour visit, the first lady and three Cabinet members moved through the elementary school, drawing an outpouring of enthusiasm from students who waved flags at Mrs. Bush's arrival and even wrote rap songs in her honor.
Mrs. Bush told the 7-year-olds that she had two grandchildren and asked, "How many of you have an old grandmother read to you?" One girl piped up, "I don't have an old grandma read to me, but I do have a good grandma."
The first lady was amused when children reciting a poem by Shel Silverstein titled "Color" talked about "yucky silver hair." Mrs. Bush, whose silvery hair has become a trademark, asked, "How about that yucky silver hair?"
Governor Schaefer, addressing children, Cabinet members, state and national education officials, politicians and community leaders in the school auditorium, said "History was made in Maryland today."
He praised President Bush for working with the nation's 50 governors to draft the six goals that are the basis of his national educational strategy called America 2000. If those goals are achieved, by the year 2000 American students will be the first in the world in science and mathematics, every adult American will be literate, and every school will be free of drugs and violence.
Maryland is one of the first states to support the program. The Maryland 2000 -- Schools for Success program, which has similar goals, grades each school and holds them accountable for results.
In her remarks, Mrs. Bush said that Maryland's "prospects for achieving the America 2000 goals are excellent" and that she had come "to cheer you on and not to give advice."
She echoed President Bush's view that "what happens at home matters. . . . We are and always will be our children's teachers."
She also praised Worthington Elementary for having "an excitement for education."
According to Worthington officials, excitement permeated the school in anticipation of Mrs. Bush's visit.
Principal Betty M. King said she had barely slept the past three nights. "In recent days here, the name Bush came up so any times that she was on our minds constantly."
But 9-year-old Erin Holmes was cool as she stood atop a stool and introduced the first lady at the program, attended by Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, secretary of health and human services; Energy Secretary James D. Watkins; William K. Reilly, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; David Kearns, deputy secretary of education; four members of Congress, and state and local education officials.
The fourth-grader said she told Mrs. Bush that they had in common owning dogs and having just returned from summer vacation. "I like chocolate cookies and milk. Do you?" Erin asked Mrs. Bush, who nodded that she did.
Erin's mother, an emergency-room nurse at St. Agnes Hospital, said Mrs. Bush was "very sincere and genuine, and I am overjoyed in the interest she has taken in literacy. My only hope is that this event is not all talk and no action."
Robert C. Embry Jr., chairman of the state Board of Education, raised a similar concern in his speech. "It is easy to set goals," he said. "But I hope we come back in the year 2000 to see how we have done."
On Tuesday, President Bush went to an elementary school in Lewiston, Maine, where he said the American educational system is failing and "we must blame ourselves for betraying our children."
Mrs. Bush came to a school in the affluent suburban section of Howard County, a jurisdiction where last year's seniors scored 12 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test than the previous year. The 975 average composite score of Howard County seniors was 79 points higher than the national average.
Earlier yesterday, red, white and blue ribbons decorated Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, which Energy Secretary Watkins visited as part of the administration's education campaign.
Mr. Watkins, a former admiral, gave an all-male class of second-graders a brief lecture on recycling. The class, part of a program that forges mentorships between black male students and area professionals, wrote stories and drew pictures about Mr. Watkins' visit.
Mr. Watkins also talked to an all-female class of fifth-graders about career possibilities available by studying math and science.
The Energy Department has formed a partnership with the school to provide career counseling and mentors and help improve its science and math education.