Thursday, June 26, 2003

First lady captivates Oyler students

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] First Lady Laura Bush read A. Lincoln and Me at Oyler Elementary School in Lower Price Hill Wednesday.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
The library at Oyler Elementary School has probably never been as quiet as it was Wednesday when Laura Bush sat down to read to 26 second- and third-graders.

The squirming stopped, lips were zipped and 52 wide eyes focused at the head of the class when the first lady launched into an animated reading of A. Lincoln and Me by Cincinnati-area author Louise Borden.

"There are 365 birthdays - one for every day of the year," she read. "And I have the same one as Abraham Lincoln - Feb. 12 - a day of winter."

The book is about an awkward boy who is happy to learn from his teacher that he shares not only the birthday but also some of the same characteristics of the respected president, like his lanky form. That makes him feel special.

Laura Bush, who was in the area Wednesday for a fund-raiser in Indian Hill, made a stop at Oyler in Lower Price Hill to read for the students and take a tour of the 73-year-old school.

As a former librarian and teacher, she has chosen literacy as her cause. Her national initiative, called Ready to Read, Ready to Learn, stresses the importance of reading to children long before they enter school.

In 2001, the first lady spearheaded the first National Book Festival.

In May, Oyler received a $5,000 grant to buy books from the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries.

The money was used to buy more than a thousand books, said Principal Craig Hockenberry. After reading to the children, she took questions from them, including whether it's cool to be the first lady and whether the White House has a lot of bathrooms. (Answers: yes and yes.)

She later spoke about the importance of reading often to children, especially like those in Cincinnati's low-income areas, where reading scores are among the lowest in the state. She said schools should emphasize literacy.

"If it takes teaching reading all day, then do that," she said. "Once children can read, then they can do all the other subjects."

Bush said many children start school without being exposed to reading.

"The long-term solution is to make sure parents know how important it is to read to their children and how important it is to incorporate books and reading and words in everyday life," she said.

She said parents need to spend more time reading to their children, starting when they are babies.

She also called the achievement gap between white and minority students troubling.

Results of the Nation's Report Card released last week showed that 40 percent of white Ohio fourth-graders scored proficient on the 2002 reading test while 13 percent of African-American students scored proficient.

"That's a huge problem and something our whole country needs to address," she said.

She said every segment of the community needs to get involved in improving literacy - right down to the medical community and pediatricians by prescribing reading to parents.

When asked whether it would take more monetary resources to improve achievement, Bush said it would take "more focus."

A plenty-focused Kayla Lewis, who could repeat just about everything Bush said to the group, said she loved hearing the first lady read.

"She was so dressed up and so pretty," the 9-year-old said. "It was a very good day. She didn't have to do that for us. She didn't have to come visit us."

Hockenberry, who wrote the grant proposal, said he was delighted Bush came to his school.

"I'm already inspired to do better," he said.


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