Clinton pushes learning in Arundel visit President promotes education standards

September 09, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Elaine Tassy contributed to this article.

President Clinton had the rapt attention of a roomful of more than 300 elementary schoolchildren for a few minutes yesterday -- about as long as anyone dressed in a suit and standing at a podium can hold the attention of 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds.

The real fun at Four Seasons Elementary School began when Clinton ended his speech on national education standards and started shaking children's hands.

He turned first to the 27 "reading stars" seated on risers behind him in a human backdrop, but he was soon mobbed by all the youngsters in the room. Clinton cheerfully worked the room for more than 20 minutes, the tunes of Louis Armstrong piped in over White House sound equipment, until all young hands were duly shaken.

"I shook his hand twice," announced fifth-grader Ryan Holmes, 10. "I ran up there and shook his hand. Then I walked back [to sit down] and ran back and shook his hand again." Ryan was also proud to report that Secret Service agents had parked next to his house in Gambrills.

Clinton visited the Gambrills school to again promote the development of national standards and testing for reading and math. Vice President Al Gore visited another Anne Arundel County school, Shady Side Elementary, last week, stumping on the same issue.

The announcement Friday afternoon that Clinton would visit Four Seasons sent Principal Lorna Leone and her staff and students into a frenzied weekend of preparation.

Custodians came in Saturday and Sunday to trim grass, sweep walkways and set up chairs and platforms in the media center.

Art teacher Denise Levitine worked four hours Saturday and seven hours Sunday, helping students paint banners to decorate the media center. "President Clinton Welcome to Our School. We Love it Here! We Hope You Do Too!!!!!!" read one of the posters.

"It was a labor of love," Levitine said. "It was absolutely worth it. It's the experience of a lifetime."

Jonathan Knobel, 10, donned a new blue suit in honor of his encounter with Clinton.

His mother, Marie Knobel, had to rush him to Annapolis Mall on Saturday, a day after they learned school officials had selected him to greet the president and read to him.

The Crofton fifth-grader had the weekend to select a book, prepare brief remarks and find a new suit, because his old one was too small.

Jonathan read to the president from "Eben Tyme, Powder Monkey," about a boy who carried gunpowder during the Civil War battle between the ironclad ships, the Monitor and the Merrimac.

He ended by handing the book to Clinton and suggesting that he take it home and read the whole thing.

"It's due back at the Crofton library Sept. 27," Jonathan told the president.

Laughing, Clinton took the book and said it fit well with a biography he is reading of Ulysses S. Grant, commanding general of Union forces and president.

Michael Gallant-Gardner and Crystal Williams, both 17, were in the front row of reporters, covering the biggest news event of their budding careers.

Gallant-Gardner, editor-in-chief of the Spectrum at nearby Arundel High School, and Williams, managing editor, were admitted yesterday with nothing for credentials but their yellow hall passes and pink slips signed by their principal, William Myers.

"Not many people can say, 'In my senior year I got to meet the president of the United States,' " Williams said.

And not many people can say the president landed in their back yard.

Linda Mierzeski had no idea that Clinton's helicopter, accompanied by two news media helicopters, would land behind her house yesterday until a neighbor drove by and told her she had a great view.

Mierzeski, who works part time at a law firm, then dashed to a 7-Eleven and bought a disposable camera.

From her back yard at the foot of the school's sloped property, Mierzeski snapped shots of the helicopters landing and of Clinton stepping from his chopper.

She had a better view than about 200 spectators gathered nearby, including parents, grandparents and siblings of Four Seasons students, who applauded when the president's green Marine Corps helicopter touched down at 10: 55 a.m.

"I saw the gray hair and I saw the suit, and heard everybody clapping," said Mierzeski, who is not always home at that time.

"It just happened to be my lucky day."

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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