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Q. Why Did Snowden School Install Doors on Bathroom Stalls?

An experienced Memphis teacher comments on Mrs. Bush's visit to Snowden School.

The question here is, "Why Snowden?" Snowden is a school which serves a largely affluent population, is substantially "Whiter" than most Memphis Schools, and has a large optional population selected for academic excellence. It's also located in a historic area of the city--it is literally across the street from Overton Park and the Memphis Zoo.

Out of all the schools in the city, why show the first lady one where most students read above grade level, where students come in with the skills needed in kindergarten, and where renovations and repairs are made regularly. Why not show her a school which has actually been affected by NCLB?


Rumors had been floating around Snowden School all week. Someone special was coming.

Must be someone super special, 13-year-old Alisha Duckett thought, because her school

Doors went up on bathroom stalls. There was fresh paint screaming, "Read, read, read" around the library. Fresh mulch was in the flowerbeds.

The rumors were finally put to rest during Friday morning announcements - first lady Laura Bush would be at the school, meeting with students and teachers to learn about how they had made reading fun. And more important, how that fun has translated into better test scores.

"I'm so nervous," Alisha said, holding a book, waiting for Bush to enter her classroom.

When she finally walked in, it was after 10:15 a.m. The half-hour wait had seemed an eternity to the little girl.

The first lady walked around the class and listened to Alisha's teacher, Hattye Drew, talk about their use of Latin bases, phonics and computer-assisted instruction.

Bush read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh with the sixth- and seventh-graders, and helped them with a reading exercise afterward.

It was hard to concentrate, Alisha said later, because only four seats had separated her from the first lady.

When it was all over, Alisha would remember this: "We were wearing the same color nail polish," she squealed, looking at her frosty pink nails.

"Did you see? I don't think she noticed. But I saw."

Bush was in town Friday as part of her tour of schools for her Strive to Read initiative, which focuses on strengthening middle school literacy.

The first lady's program coincides with a local, nearly $2 million initiative to improve middle-school reading.

President Bush has proposed that $100 million go toward the Strive to Read program. If the funding is approved, universities nationwide would compete for the money to develop ways to teach literacy to children who've reached sixth to ninth grade without reading well.

Snowden teachers told Laura Bush that constant testing has helped teachers know students' strengths and weaknesses.

"We are a warm, heartfelt school because of the people we have," principal Catherine Battle told Bush. "But make no mistake, everything we do is by design. Everything is data-driven."

Snowden's success with improving literacy among sixth- to eighth-graders particularly caught the first lady's eye.

"I met a boy today who didn't know how to read in sixth grade, and wasn't interested in reading, and now is the top reader in eighth grade," she said.

To catch poor readers in middle school, before they get to high school, is key, she told a press horde and a small group of teachers.

The first lady's visit turned eighth-grader Deshun Purnell into a Strive to Read ambassador.

Deshun came to Snowden reading below grade level.

"I thought it was boring," he said.

But then, his teachers at Snowden got him into murder mysteries. These days, Deshun devours books. He reads the most books in his class and outdoes his classmates on Accelerated Reader reading comprehension tests.

"I have 517 AR points," he announces.

After her nearly two-hour tour, Bush headed to a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Memphis.

— Ruma Banerji Kumar
VIP visit a read-letter day here
Commercial Appeal


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