Every day would be play day

Kid `presidents' rule out school

August 12, 2004|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

If these presidential candidates had their way, there would be no littering, no school, no guns, and a movie theater in every basement.

The driving age would be 10. There would be "mass production of peaceful video games." Homeless children would live in the White House, which would be robin's-egg blue.

So said hundreds of children from across the state - and a few outside it - who were asked to complete the sentence, "If I Were President."

The answers are collected in a new book with that title published by the Children's Guild, a school for emotionally disturbed children with campuses in Baltimore, Annapolis and Prince George's County.

The idea for the book surfaced last fall, as Guild staffers were exploring ideas for celebrating the school's 50th anniversary this year.

The school's president, Andrew L. Ross, wasn't sure the concept would work. Would kids who can barely sit still in class, whose behavioral and emotional problems had disqualified them from other schools, remain interested enough to see a book through?

He needn't have worried. The students responded enthusiastically.

"It sort of reminds you of the innocence of childhood again when they think about the presidency," Ross said. "I guess the delight and fun of childhood is still there even in troubling and difficult times. It never goes away."

One of the contributors was Aric Moore, 13, who has been a Children's Guild student for seven years. "It used to be if you said `hi' to him it was all you could do to get a response from him," said his grandmother and guardian, Karen Mellott.

Before she died two years ago from an infection, Aric's mother had warned him many times never to play with guns. So he wrote that he would save the world from violence.

And that kids would be allowed to bring toys to school.

After his thoughts appeared in the book, Aric, who had been doing well at the school, became even more outgoing, Mellott said. At a book signing at Hometown Girl in Hampden recently, Aric enthusiastically greeted readers and gave his autograph.

"I think it's really good. It's maybe one of the best books there is," Aric said. Best of all, he said: "I know I'm a star now."

After they had put their own students to work, the teachers and staff at the Children's Guild cast a wider net for the project, asking their own children, teachers in other schools, and friends to contribute.

In the end, they received 500 submissions, winnowed to 300 to fit the 74-page book. Though they were asked, neither President George W. Bush nor the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, ending up contributing.

The book, an interactive journal, invites young readers to write in their own presidential intentions - what countries they'd visit, how they would keep the world clean, what pets they would bring to the White House.

"These kids come from all social classes, which is unusual, I think, in a book," Ross said. "And they also represent the kids that get straight A's in school, the kids in the middle and the kids who are failing horribly."

Kelly Spanoghe, who directs the Children's Guild's Annapolis campus, asked her 11-year-old daughter, Alison, a student at St. Mary's Elementary School, if she wanted to participate. To say Alison warmed to the idea is an understatement.

She immediately came up with a law-enforcement plan to make criminals shudder in their boots. Among her prescriptions: "Anyone who didn't follow the rules would have to say sorry and beg forgiveness until they said it 500 times."

Alison said her get-tough stance has won rave reviews from readers. "They say that's a good idea," she said.

As in many a political campaign, some suggestions clearly were for the benefit of special interests. ("I would tell all of the kids there is no school work and to go out and play." "I would spend my time at King's Dominion." "I would make one day `Hello Kitty Day' for all the girls.")

And some surely wouldn't get the popular vote from peers: "I would make the school day longer because kids don't learn enough in six hours ... from 6:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening."

Perhaps one of the last entries best describes a hidden sentiment of the many.

"I would search for the smartest person I could find and make him President instead," wrote Gianna T. Fellows. "I think this job is way too hard for me to do."

How to buy the book

If I Were President: An Interactive Journal was published as a fund-raiser for the Children's Guild, a school for emotionally disturbed children in Baltimore, Annapolis and Prince George's County. The book costs $13.95 and can be purchased at Greetings & Readings bookstore, 809 Taylor Ave., Towson, or Hometown Girl, 1001 W. 36th St., Baltimore. It's also available through these Web sites: www.childrensguild.org and www.amazon.com.

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