Obama Girls Start at Their New School, Sidwell Friends

By Richard Leiby and DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's hard enough to be the New Kid transferring midyear into any school in a new town, but consider some of the special scrutiny visited upon young Malia and Sasha Obama yesterday as they started classes at Sidwell Friends:

First, make sure you look super-cute for the morning photos with Mom and Dad -- 'cause they're going on the Internet. (You're living in a hotel, but must try to look "normal.") When you get to class, just "fit in" -- even though everybody knows who you are, and will be staring, even if they're trying not to stare, because your father is going to be the president.

Usually the recommencement of classes at a private school don't warrant breaking updates: The girls' motorcade left the Hay-Adams Hotel for Sidwell Friends School. They arrived early! Several hours went by. Then they left!

Meanwhile the Sidwell administration, which is accustomed to hosting the progeny of executive office-holders, did its best to make yesterday seem mundane.

"It's been a very normal day, the first day after winter break," said Ellis Turner, associate headmaster at Sidwell. "Nothing special was prepared for any of our students."

Utterly normal. Except, of course, for the comings-and-goings of the soon-to-be first daughters: Malia, 10, now a fifth-grader at the school's Northwest Washington campus on Wisconsin Avenue, and Sasha, 7, a second-grader at the Bethesda campus not far up the road.

The media did their usual stakeout thing to record the historic occasion. We can reliably report some details, such as: Sasha carried a JanSport Trans backpack with a camouflage pattern of pink, magenta, gray and white camouflage. Attached to the backpack was a turquoise, three-eyed Uglydoll keychain.

What precisely happened in the girls' classrooms was not publicly announced -- the school, parents and students are trying to maintain a news blackout -- but we assume that some sort of teaching took place. Also, discreet gawking.

"We were told to act normally," said one student, who declined to be identified for fear of violating school omerta. "But people were looking out the windows anyway."

After the lunch bell rang, he saw Malia in the cafeteria. "She seemed to fit in like any other student. It looked like she made friends on her first day. She seemed very happy, she was skipping and smiling, she already had a lot of friends around her."

The school's custom is to make newcomers feel comfortable. "They really do make a big deal of welcoming new kids in," said one elementary-school parent, citing the experience of his own first-grader. And the girls already are friends with their fellow young campaign veterans -- the granddaughters of incoming Vice President Joe Biden, who also attend Sidwell.

Some of the school's Quaker traditions might require getting used to. There are periods of silence observed at the start of the day, and at the start of lunch. "Each school day begins with silence as students gather by homerooms, and meals and assemblies incorporate silence as we gather," the school's handbook says.

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