Obama greets young readers at Montgomery school

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The students of Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring were munching on grilled cheese sandwiches and tater tots in the cafeteria Monday when their ordinary meal became the ultimate power lunch: a surprise visit from President Obama.

It was the last school stop of the day for Obama, who earlier had gone with the first lady to the Sidwell Friends School's campuses in Bethesda and Washington. Those were quiet, personal visits for parent-teacher conferences about their daughters, Sasha and Malia, but the stop at Viers Mill drew a bit of a crowd.

The cheers and screams of 150 third- and fifth-graders greeted the president, said Matt Devan, Viers Mill's principal. Students shook with excitement and some started crying at the sight of their famous guest.

"Viers Mill, what's our goal?" Devan asked. "Read! Read! Read!" the students cried.

"So, you guys are readers. And so, being a reader myself, I wanted to come meet all these outstanding readers," Obama said. Without much speechifying -- the visit lasted about 30 minutes -- Obama shared his game plan with the youngsters.

"What I'm going to do is, I'm just going to come around, I'm going to shake people's hands. I'm going to say 'hi' to folks," Obama said. "And you guys can tell me what you've been reading, all right?"

The president went from table to table, asking questions and shaking hands. Students said they'd been reading "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "Goosebumps," among other books, as well as the Harry Potter series.

"Malia and I read the Harry Potter books. We thought those were pretty good," Obama said. At one point, he noted that he had just seen Spike Jonze's movie adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book, "Where the Wild Things Are."

"That's a great book," Obama said, and he rated the movie "worth seeing."

An 8-year-old named Maya proclaimed that "this is the best day of my life -- in school."

At another table, Christian Torres, 8, kept covering his face with his hands and jumping up and down. He said that he knew the president was coming "when we saw suits. And we saw police."

Jerry D. Weast, the Montgomery County school superintendent, was almost as excited as the students. "There was an authentic connection, because [Obama] has children and he knew their books," Weast said. "He was able to relate to their books and, without any kind of hesitation, respond to their questions."

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