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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 24, 2003

Students talk story with first couple

 •  Bush gets taste of aloha, Hawai'i view of the world
 •  Bush fund-raisers bolster local Republicans
 • Hundreds in Waikiki protest administration policies
 • Liliha resident has aloha moment with Bush
 • First lady full of warmth at tea party
 • President's visit comes with tight security
 •  Photo gallery

By Derrick DePledge and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers

Charlotte Yamada had told her second-grade class at Pearl Harbor Elementary School to get ready for an important visitor, but most of the students didn't know exactly who was coming until yesterday morning.

President Bush and the first lady made an appearance at Pearl Harbor Elementary School yesterday and took questions from a second-grade audience.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I told them it was Linda Lingle," Yamada said conspiratorially.

But the green banner welcoming President Bush and his wife, first lady Laura Bush, yesterday morning was a dead giveaway, and students quickly realized they were in for something special.

Under the shade of a banyan tree in the school's courtyard, the first lady read from the children's book, "Giggle, Giggle, Quack," by Doreen Cronin, and the president spoke and even took a few tough questions from curious students.

"The White House is a big place, right?" asked second-grader Darrel Florance. "I was wondering how much square footage it has."

Bush quickly admitted he did not know the answer.

"Good question," he said. "I don't know how much square footage there is."

There had been a buzz around the Pearl Harbor campus for the past week and a half, since school administrators first heard that Bush and his wife might pay a visit during their brief stop on O'ahu. About half of the school's students have parents in the military, so keeping secrets is not uncommon. But word began to dribble out in the media over the past few days, so some parents and students already knew the surprise.

Mandy Crossland, whose son, Bailey, is in first grade at Pearl Harbor, was across the street from the school with a friend, hoping to get a glimpse of the president and first lady as they passed in their motorcade.

"My son came home and said, 'George Washington is coming!' and I said, 'No, it's George Bush,' " Crossland said.

President Bush and Laura Bush received hugs and lei during a visit to Pearl Harbor Elementary School.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Another second-grader made the same mistake. As the Bushes walked into the courtyard, one student welcomed the president by calling out, "George Washington."

"George what?" Bush asked. "You got the first name right."

Crossland's husband serves on the USS Santa Fe, a submarine at Pearl Harbor, and she is a solid Bush supporter.

A throng of students from nearby Pearl Harbor Christian Academy, stuck behind yellow police tape, sang "God Bless America" when Bush and his wife emerged from their limousine. Inside Pearl Harbor Elementary, students greeted the couple with three rounds of "America."

The White House chose the school, which was close to the president's appearances yesterday morning at the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri, and specifically requested a second-grade audience.

The first lady, a former public school teacher and librarian, also brought the children's book she would read, and she and the president autographed it as a gift to the school. The book tells the story of Farmer Brown, who goes on a Hawai'i vacation and unwittingly leaves the farm animals under the control of a duck.

Ellamarie Savidge, Pearl Harbor's principal, said she would likely display the book in the school's library as a keepsake. Students presented Bush with a blue Pearl Harbor polo shirt and the first lady with a V-neck floral print with the school's logo. They also got to take a group photograph with the presidential couple.

Bush made education a central theme of his 2000 presidential campaign and, working with Congress, initiated the federal No Child Left Behind law, which could bring substantial change to public schools.

The law requires schools to make annual progress toward having all students proficient in core subjects by 2014, and many schools across the country have had trouble meeting the new rules.

Pearl Harbor made its annual targets this year under the law, although 64 percent of Hawai'i schools did not.

But yesterday's visit was not about education policy. It was a rare opportunity for Pearl Harbor students to see a president up close.

"They can see he's a real person," Savidge said. "He's not just somebody who lives in the White House."

Over a lunch of hot dogs and rice in the school's cafeteria, the second-graders talked about their unusual morning.

"I'll never forget this day," said Elijah Tausaga, who got to place a lei around the first lady's neck and had the distinction of asking Bush what was fun about being president.

"Being president is fun because I get to see a lot of people in our country, like you," Bush told him, "and I can work on things that matter, like teaching kids to read."

Nakoa Sakimi-Kauo said the president looked different from how he does on television.

Amanda Belzer thought the president, not the first lady, was going to read to them.

Dax Campbell said the experience was "cool, very cool."

"I shook his hand," Dax said. "Maybe he'll come back again if he wants to learn some more."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.