Fourth-grader Michael De Grandis says he's been at Worthington Elementary School since kindergarten, "and I didn't think anything this exciting would happen."
Excitement surrounded first lady Barbara Bush Thursday from the moment she stepped out of her limousine onto the school parking lot. She had come with federal and state officials to kick off Maryland's participation in "America 2000," the president's initiative to increase high school graduation rates, improve student competency and ensure that children are prepared to start school.
Two hours later, when Bush re-entered her limousine to return to Washington, she left a school full of still-excited students behind, eager to share their impressions of her visit.
Michael, 9, was lucky enough to be at the front of the crowd of students waving small American flags to welcome Bush, so he got to shake her hand.
Erin Vollmerhausen was lucky, too. The 7-year-old from Savage had written a letter, which she managed to hand to the first lady as Bush entered the school.
The letter said:
"Dear Mrs. Bush, I hate broccoli to. If you put cheese on it, it will taste better. Tell Mr. Bush I hatebroccoli. Love, Erin Vollmerhausen."
Erin, a third-grader at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, said she got the idea to write the letter after her teacher told her the president didn't like broccoli. Hermother, Toni Vollmerhausen, and aunt, Terri McCulley Hicks, brought nine children ranging from 12 months to 7 years to see the president's wife.
"They wanted to see the lady who looks like Mom-Mom," saidHicks. "Mom-Mom" is her mother, Barbara McCulley, an instructional assistant at Worthington Elementary whose silver-white hair is the same color as Bush's.
Hicks said she knew the younger children wouldn't remember the experience, but she and her sister were taking pictures, "and one day we'll be able to look back and say, 'We were at school when Mrs. Bush was there.' "
Most of the Worthington students learned that Bush was coming on Tuesday, the first day of school, but Jamie Betts knew a week ahead because her mother, Linda Betts, is active in the school PTA.
Nobody had to tell Jamie that Barbara Bush was the president's wife -- "I found out from my mom after Mr. Bush became president." The 9-year-old fourth-grader said she didn't wear any special outfit for the visit, "I just did my hair different."
Bush's two-hour visit to Worthington included a session in the school library where she and Gov. William Donald Schaefer took turns reading"Jamaica's Tag-Along," a story by Juanita Havill about what it's like to have a younger brother or sister tagging along.
"How many of you have younger brothers and sisters? How many read to your brothersand sisters?" the first lady asked at the conclusion of the story. She praised the children who raised their hands for their thoughtfulness.
When one little boy said he had a brother who followed him around, Bush patted him on the head, smiled and said, "You've got a realproblem there with your tag-along brother."
School media specialist Laurel Lee said Bush chose the book she read.
Bush toured the school, then joined state and federal officials on the cafeteria stagefor an hour of speeches on "Maryland 2000," the state's participation in "America 2000."
The education initiative was announced by President Bush in April. It aims to get states and communities involved in school improvement by adopting goals designed to reduce dropout rates and improve competencies; establishing strategies to meet the goals; measuring whether the goals are met; and creating innovative schools.
"You know, you don't get the opportunity (often) to do something like this," said Merole Concordia.
The mother of a third-grader at Worthington, Concordia stood along the wall in the packed cafeteria to hear speakers including Louis Sullivan, secretary of health and human services; James Watkins, secretary of energy; William Reilly,Environmental Protection Agency administrator; and David Kearns, deputy secretary of education.
When Bush's turn came to speak, the first lady drew laughter by explaining why she hadn't come to give advice.
She referred to an essay on Socrates in which a student wrote that the philosopher was "a very wise man who went around giving people advice. They poisoned him."
The people of the Worthington community know best what their school needs, Bush said. She praised the school for its high level of parental involvement.
Don't expect teachers to do it all, Bush said. "When our kids come home from school, do they read a book, or do they sit glued to the tube?"
Space problems and the proliferation of guests and news media limited the numberof students who could attend the assembly.
Tracey Snyder, 9, a fourth-grader who attended, said she thought Bush is "very pretty."
Tracey had a summary of her day ready for her parents: "I'm going to tell them I'm going to be in the newspaper and maybe on TV, and I don't want to go to soccer tonight, because I want to see what I look like on TV."