Maryland, Virginia Kids

Visit the White House

* Every year, the president and first lady invite kids to the White House to see how the president's home gets decorated for the holidays.

Yesterday, 30 lucky third-graders from Glen Haven Elementary in Silver Spring and 30 fourth-graders from Stratford Landing Elementary in Alexandria got to see the White House, meet President and Mrs. Bush and watch part of "The Nutcracker" ballet.

After a visit by Santa Claus, the kids left with cookies decorated to look like presidential dog Barney.

Bush had a special message for the children whose parents are serving in the military. "I know it's hard when they're away," he said. "They're not only protecting the country, but they're helping other boys and girls live in freedom."

The trip was a big thrill for the students, said Joanne Smith, principal at Glen Haven. Smith said she was contacted by the White House about three weeks ago. At first she thought some people in her office were playing a joke on her. When she realized it wasn't a prank, she felt honored for her school.

"Four of our students who went were from other countries and have been in the U.S. for less than a year. So they got to see firsthand some of the things we've been telling them about. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Smith said of the trip.

Glen Haven held a lottery among all the third-graders to decide which 30 could attend.

Principal Maura Caulfield said Stratford Landing's 30 fourth-graders were chosen at random.

President Bush sits with kids during a ballet performance at the White House.