First Lady Laura Bush visited Limerick Avenue Elementary School on Wednesday and gave students and staff high marks for their efforts to improve reading skills on the west San Fernando Valley campus.
As the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign shifts into gear, the first lady politely answered reporters' questions about her husband's administration and the Democratic presidential hopefuls, but she kept her focus on reading.
Bush's visit was the middle stop of a three-city tour aimed at touting innovative literacy programs in the nation's schools. The first lady visited Bentonville, Ark., earlier this week to highlight a teacher recruitment program. Today, she plans to meet with educators in Las Vegas to discuss proposed federal funding for high school remedial reading programs.
As a former teacher and school librarian, Bush has used her position to champion various education and reading initiatives, including a White House goal that all American children be able to read by the third grade, a program President Bush announced in his State of the Union message last month.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 20, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Laura Bush's visit -- An article in Thursday's California section about First Lady Laura Bush's visit to Limerick Avenue Elementary School incorrectly said the school is in Canoga Park. It is in Winnetka.
At Limerick Avenue Elementary in Canoga Park, the first lady was met by a knot of law enforcement officers, camera crews, school officials and parents who clogged the neighborhood.
Inside the school's reading intervention lab, Bush sat in a tiny chair alongside 10 fourth- and fifth-graders as teachers Susan Theodore and Sheri Schwarzbach drilled the students in phonics and grammar.
At the end of the session, the first lady stood and thanked the children for inviting her to their classroom.
"This was fun being with you, and I'm so proud of how well you're doing," she said, before dispensing a little advice.
"President Bush always asks kids to read more than they watch TV," she said. "Imagine, if you read for 30 minutes to an hour every day, that would be good -- good exercise for your brain."
The first lady then met with teachers and administrators for a round-table discussion about new techniques the Los Angeles Unified School District was using to help teach reading, including professional development conferences, specialized instruction for English language learners and state-of-the-art resource materials.
"I am very interested in what you all are working on," Bush said, in ending the meeting. "It actually sounds like a lot of fun. I'm kind of jealous."
At a news conference in the school's auditorium, which was adorned with hand-lettered welcome signs, the first lady said she chose to visit Limerick because of the school's emphasis on improving reading teachers' skills, which, in turn, benefits struggling younger readers.
"We know that if children don't learn to read by the end of the third grade or fourth grade, their chances for learning to read decrease every year," Bush said. "So, I want to commend the teachers and principals here at Limerick for making sure every child here does want to read."