Barbara Bush stands out in a crowd, even one that includes three members of her husband's Cabinet and a scene-stealing governor.
It seemed all of officialdom had assembled yesterday at Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City to launch "Maryland 2000," an education campaign based on President Bush's "America 2000" initiative.
There were members of Maryland's congressional delegation, the state's top education bureaucrats, local officials, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and the heads of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services.
The officials gave speeches about Maryland 2000, which aims to spur community involvement in education reforms, and got their share of applause from students, teachers and staff. But none shone like the first lady, who lived up to principal Betty King's expectations.
"The first lady is kind of special to me. When I first saw her on TV and heard her on an interview, I was just impressed with the kind of responses she made," said King.
Bush impressed the students of second-grade teacher Helen Banghart with her expressive reading of an inspiring children's book called "Jamaica Tag-Along." Schaefer read from the same book, but there was no comparison: Bush's experience with her own children and grandchildren had made her the more polished tale-teller.
The kids bestowed gifts on Bush -- a red, white and blue necklace and flowers made in art class -- and gave Schaefer a tie and a chocolate chip cookie shaped like a book.
While Danyale Goode, 6, was giving Bush the flowers, her mother, Sylvia, snapped a photograph.
The students, in turn, read to Bush and Schaefer, and later sang the school song for the crowd that assembled in the auditorium at the end of her visit.
All the officials paid homage to education, Worthington and each other. But, again, it was Bush who seemed most in tune with the hearts and minds of her audience.
She talked of the modern teacher's roles -- those of social worker, psychologist, nurse and so on -- while pointing out that students at most spend 9 percent of their childhood in class. "What do we do with that other 91 percent?" she asked. "There's not a person in Americawho does not share responsibility for that other 91."
Before he joined Barbara Bush at Worthington, Energy Secretary James D. Watkins gave 30 second-graders at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore a 10-minute lesson in recycling.
"Recycling saves energy, protects the environment and saves the Earth," he said, urging pupils to save aluminum cans and newspapers. "When we save energy, we save your parents from paying higher taxes and they can put more money toward your summer vacation."
Just how many Coleman students go anywhere during the summer is in question. Coleman students by and large are poor, the economic opposite of their more affluent counterparts at Worthington.
The students Watkins addressed make up an all-male experimental class organized by Project 2000, a Morgan State University program with a goal of keeping young black males in school.