Imagine being a reporter who gets a much-coveted Oval Office interview with the president, scooping the likes of The Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN. And imagine doing it when you're just 12.
That's just what Ashley Williams did recently when she interviewed President Bush on the day he signed into law a bill creating a new Internet domain just for kids. The seventh-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Alexandria is one of 15 "kid reporters" from all over the country working for Time for Kids, a version of the popular news magazine designed for classrooms.
"Meeting the president was an excellent experience, and I was fortunate to have had the chance," Ashley said.
Entering the world of big-time journalism has been a whirlwind for Ashley. Last spring, she noticed a contest on the Time for Kids Web site, for kids younger than 13 who wanted to write for the magazine.
"I love to write and I want to be a journalist when I grow up," she said, "so when I saw this contest I entered."
The application asked for a sample news story, and Ashley wrote about budget cuts in Fairfax County Public Schools. She interviewed the superintendent of schools and quoted him in her story.
Based on her story, Ashley was chosen to be a reporter from the more than 500 kids who entered the contest.
"I was really amazed," said Ashley. "I've entered a lot of contests and haven't gotten anything better than honorable mention before."
Ashley doesn't get paid for her work, but the job has lots of other benefits. Her first assignment was to cover the National Book Festival in Washington in October. She met Eric Carle, the author of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and other popular children's books, and interviewed Washington Wizards swing man Jerry Stackhouse and other NBA and WNBA players.
Next, she interviewed former Baltimore Orioles superstar Cal Ripken Jr. at his office. He admitted to Ashley that he used to "have butterflies in my stomach before every opening day and every All-Star Game."
Ripken's advice on how to stay calm came in handy when Ashley got her assignment to cover Bush and the bill signing. On Dec. 4, Ashley's mom, Rosemarie Wesson Williams, drove her to the Capitol to meet first with Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota. Dorgan drove Ashley to the White House and introduced her to the president in the Oval Office.
Ashley was nervous at first. "But I went in there and met him, and he's just like any other normal person," she said.
The president told Ashley about his rug, which his wife made, and his desk.
"There's an eagle carved on the front," Ashley explained. "In one claw is a symbol of war and in the other is a symbol of peace, but the eagle is facing the symbol of peace, which he said showed that America always tries to go the way of peace."
Ashley then went to the Roosevelt Room, where the president signed the "dot-kids" law in front of members of Congress and other reporters. "He told the other reporters there that I got an exclusive because no other reporter was allowed into the Oval Office," Ashley said. (You can read her report at timeforkids.com.)
The job has been exciting for the whole Williams family, including father Billy and brothers Aaron, 9, and Bryan, 8. The family moved to Washington a little more than a year ago, when Ashley's mom took a job with the National Science Foundation.
"We never expected anything like this when we moved from Midland, Michigan, a town of 35,000," said Rosemarie Wesson Williams. "In the beginning, Ashley was not very happy about our move. But I think now she's adjusted."
Ashley will be a kid reporter for the rest of the school year. Then Time for Kids will hold a new contest for next year's group of kid reporters.
-- P.F. Loeb
Time for Kids reporter