As the Swansfield Elementary School students boarded six buses Monday for the trek from Columbia to the White House Easter Egg Roll, second-grader Jadaejah Matthews said she hoped to meet President Barack Obama.
Classmate Masale Robi seconded that hope, adding that he wanted to ask Obama "how he learns tricks to play basketball."
The Swansfield party of 250 (including 175 students) were set to join more than 30,000 people participating in the annual event Monday that featured live music, sports courts, cooking stations, storytelling and Easter egg rolling on the White House South Lawn.
Swansfield Principal Molly Ketterer said that the Columbia school's health initiatives fall in line with this year's Easter Egg Roll theme, "Get Up and Go," which underscores first lady Michelle Obama's efforts to get youngsters more active.
In October 2005, the school began its "Swansfield Striders" program, which provides a structured recess and walk-to-school initiative to make certain that students meet the surgeon general's requirement of 60 minutes of activity per day. Students are also encouraged to ride bicycles to school, and school officials said that about 85 percent of students participate in the programs.
Ketterer said she believes that the initiatives were among the reasons why Swansfield was chosen for the egg roll.
"We were notified a little bit less than two weeks ago, and then we had our spring break, so very quickly we had to move," Ketterer said. She added that the tickets were distributed via lottery and that Monday's group included 25 staff members and 25 parent chaperones. Students from kindergarten through fifth grade went on the trip.
Second-grader Bianca Kanu said that she was delighted when she heard her name during the lottery announcement. Asked what she would say if she met the president, she answered: "Hi."
With so many children involved, the White House event was broken up into two-hour "shifts." The Swansfield group left the school grounds just after 2 p.m. to participate in their shift, which began at 4:20 p.m.
Well before Swansfield arrived, families from as far away as Washington state lined up early Monday morning for the Easter Egg Roll. The event featured groups of about a half-dozen youngsters of all ages propelling colored eggs across the lawn and past a finish line.
Just before noon, the president and first lady got involved. Accompanied by daughters Sasha and Malia, they greeted participants from the balcony overlooking the South Lawn.
Then they participated in the roll as the president blew a whistle to start one race, and he and the first lady cheered on a few toddlers in one group. They later joined a group of students seated in a reading area and read to them the book "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" by Bill Martin.
Ketterer said that Swansfield is among a handful of Howard County schools to be selected for the event over the past few years.
"It's an amazing opportunity for kids who have never had it before," Ketterer said moments before the buses left school. "They're completely thrilled and excited."