BREWER, Maine — Former first lady Barbara Bush, who summers in Kennebunkport, “visited” Maine on Tuesday from her office in Houston when she connected online with a third-grade classroom at Washington Street School.
In a videoconference with the 8- and 9-year-old students in Cherrie MacInnes’ class, Mrs. Bush talked about her life in the White House with George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, about the importance of reading, and about her work as a literacy advocate.
When she was first lady from 1989 to 1993, “I could do something every single day that would make the world better,” she told the youngsters.
She founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy while in the White House, and the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland was named in her honor.
Tuesday’s video link-up with the former first lady was nothing new for MacInnes’ students. Last year she took her class on a Web-based field trip to Minnesota to “visit” a Brewer student who moved to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. That visit blossomed into “Chatting Across the USA,” a program connecting classrooms all over the nation and world over the Internet.
Last year’s class visited all 50 states online. This year’s class has visited 13 states, chatted with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in Washington, D.C., and contacted pen pals in Arizona and Belarus, among other online “field trips.”
“You are so great,” Mrs. Bush said after hearing all about the program from the students, each of whom spoke with her while standing in front of a webcam attached to MacInnes’ laptop.
The Brewer students keep journals of what they learn during the meetings. Mrs. Bush, the mother of the 43rd president, George W. Bush, and of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said several times that she was very impressed with the videoconferencing program and with MacInnes, calling her “amazing” more than once.
The students, some of whom dressed in shirts and ties, nice sweaters and dresses to meet the former first lady, ended the meeting by asking Mrs. Bush what she liked about Maine, what her favorite subject was when she was a third-grader, and what her favorite book was.
She said, “I have a thousand favorite books,” then went on to say she and her family love the people of Maine, the countryside and Maine lobster. She said reading, history and math were her favorite subjects in grade school.
After the 20-minute video meeting was over, her assistant sent the Brewer teacher a note saying, “Mrs. Bush just walked around the office telling everyone about her Skype experience. She loves that you created this whole program and are still actively engaging new realms of the project.”
Skype is an Internet program that allows users to make free telephone and video calls over the World Wide Web.
As Mrs. Bush videoconferenced with Brewer, the local students weren’t the only ones listening in.
“While we were talking with Mrs. Bush, we had students from Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Hawaii watching” using Skype, MacInnes said.
Mrs. Bush said she was sorry her husband was not available to participate. “But I bought Mini,” she added, holding up a 20-month-old Maltese poodle.
The kids nearly exploded with excitement.
Since Mrs. Bush, 85, and her small dog both have solid white curly hair, the former first lady joked that her puppy was “Mini me.”
“I think your project is wonderful,” Mrs. Bush said at the end of the session.
Reaching first lady Michelle Obama is the final goal of MacInnes’ class this year. While working on a chapter about persuasive writing, each student wrote a letter to Mrs. Obama requesting a “visit.” The letters were mailed to the White House last month.