BREWER, Maine — Former first lady Barbara Bush, who summers in Kennebunkport, and Maine first lady Ann LePage have both “visited” Brewer students in the past through Web-based field trips, and on Monday they will join together to “visit” again.
“Earlier this summer, Mrs. LePage was helping Mrs. Bush at a literacy event [and] they talked about how they had each videoconferenced with my students and really liked our Chatting Across the USA project,” third-grade teacher Cherrie MacInnes said Thursday. “Each has conferenced with us twice during the past two school years. Mrs. Bush came up with the idea of the two first ladies working together to do a joint conference.”
The videoconference using Skype is scheduled for Monday afternoon. Bush and LePage will talk to the students at Brewer Community School from Kennebunkport.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity to engage with students and use technology in the classroom to connect with them,” LePage said in a joint statement with Bush. “Books are still a staple in how we educate our children, but today’s students are also virtual learners and digital technology is a fun and exciting way to bring the world to them.”
When Bush “visited” Maine in March 2011 from her office in Houston, she talked about her life in the White House with George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, and about the importance of reading and her work as a literacy advocate.
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. Bush was first lady from 1989 to 1993.
“When Ann LePage and I discovered our mutual admiration for Cherrie MacInnes and her Chatting Across the USA program, we decided one day we would do a joint Skype session. So here we are!” Bush said in the statement. “It is always a joy to Skype with the third-graders in Brewer — and it makes this 87-year-old great-grandmother feel young again.”
The video linkup is nothing new for MacInnes, who has invited the entire third- and fourth-grade wing of the school to watch the interaction Monday. In 2010, she took her class on a Web-based field trip to Minnesota to “visit” a Brewer student who had 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.
The first year’s class visited all 50 states online. Last year’s class visited numerous states, chatted with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in Washington, D.C., former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and former Maine Gov. John Baldacci, and contacted pen pals in Arizona and Belarus, among other online “field trips.”
“Because it is the beginning of the year, we are in the research phase of our project and have yet to begin the videoconference portion,” MacInnes said. “Therefore students are going to teach the first ladies about the Community of Caring program that is an important part of our school district’s curriculum.”
The longtime educator also said, “I think that the fact that these two first ladies are joining forces to provide this type of educational experience is groundbreaking, I truly believe they are the first to do something like this. Maybe they will inspire other leaders to do the same. Videoconferencing is a great way for leaders, authors and others to work with schools.”