First lady returns to role as teacher

Laura Bush visits Baltimore school on recruiting tour

October 18, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Dozens of curious onlookers peeked from street corners and behind yellow police tape in hopes of snapping a picture or getting a handshake, but second-grader R.J. Hargett was unimpressed when he learned the first lady of the United States would be visiting his Brooklyn school yesterday.

"He's 7 years old. People don't excite him," said his father, Robert.

Then, she showed up.

Not only did R.J. and 20 of his classmates at Baltimore's Maree Garnett Farring Elementary hear Laura Bush read a book, teach a vocabulary lesson and introduce a faraway land called Ethiopia. They also made off with loot of presidential proportions: color photographs of Mrs. Bush, her husband, Air Force One and the Bushes' two dogs, Barney and Spot - R.J.'s favorite.

"She's really nice," he said afterward.

The first lady's stop in Baltimore was part of a five-day nationwide tour in recognition of Teach For America Week, which puts professionals from all disciplines into classrooms to emphasize the importance of education and teacher recruitment.

For about 40 minutes, Bush took over the class of Andrea Sadowski, 23, a member of Teach For America's national corps of recent college graduates who commit to teach for two years in cities and rural areas. (In Baltimore, 38 schools use the program.)

Sadowski's pupils stood and greeted the first lady in unison when she walked in shortly before noon.

"Thanks for standing," she told them in her Texas drawl. "That's very polite. I really appreciate it."

Bush said her stint as a guest teacher let her recognize educators like Sadowski.

"This gives me a chance to go around and thank teachers like your teacher," she said.

Sitting in a kid-sized chair at the front of the cramped classroom, Bush held up and read Faraway Home, Jane Kurtz's book about a father describing to his American daughter what it was like to grow up in his homeland of Ethiopia.

Bush read warmly and with ease, asking questions and referring to a few of the children by name. Save for the Secret Service and the knot of media, it was as if she was again the teacher she used to be.

"Most people in America came from other countries," the first lady explained. "In fact, we're a country full of all different nationalities and all different religions."

After the reading, Bush helped children individually mark Baltimore on a paper map at their desks. "Have y'all found it?" she asked.

The lesson over, the pupils flipped through "presidential" folders Bush had brought them.

"This is kind of a forgotten part of the city," said Thomas Stroschein, Farring's principal. "To have [the first lady] honor us in this way is just remarkable."

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