Tammy Mason, Head Start graduate, was late for school yesterday. But she had a pretty good excuse.
"My mother said I could go in late today so I could see the president. If he was here, I wanted to see him," she said.
In a light blue ski sweater with white embroidery, Tammy stood on a gray folding chair to get a better view of the commander in chief.
The president spent an hour yesterday morning at the Banneker Community Building in Catonsville, where the Emily Harris Head Start Center is located.
He spoke about Head Start's goals -- instilling the sort of positive self image and confidence that Tammy displays. Mr. Bush said he'll propose another $600 million for the program in his next budget -- which would give 157,000 more youngsters like Tammy the chance to enroll.
Now a fourth-grade pupil at Church Lane Elementary School in Randallstown, Tammy came to yesterday's event with her grandmother, Johnnie Mae Lumpkin. Tammy's mother, Sheila, is a crossing guard and couldn't get the morning off.
Tammy peered at the president over the heads of Secret Service men, television cameras and assorted reporters. In the front of the room sat Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md-2nd, and Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent.
"I recognize him from the TV news and the newspapers," she said of the president.
Tammy spent two years at the center. She and her family remain in close touch with Deborah Barrett and other teachers. Her youngest sister, Michelle, is there now.
Tammy says she learned about the dentist in her Head Start classes. She had medical checkups. And got her immunizations. She went on field trips to a farm, to the Inner Harbor and to nearby shopping malls. She even insisted on going to the monthly parents' meetings, according to her mother.
"It's helped her a lot. She's advanced in her math class and she's average in all her other subjects. She gets along well with people, but without Head Start she wouldn't have had the socialization," her mother says.
Head Start has helped the entire family with its needs and problems, including high school and vocational training. The program has helped other families when eviction notices arrived or bills were overdue.
"Families have to stay involved," the president said yesterday.
But more money will help, too, Mrs. Mason said.
"My middle child was scheduled to go, but they had a funding problem that year and she couldn't. She missed the speech and hearing screening program and she has a speech problem. She's still in a special class," she explained.
During a 30-minute visit with parents and children earlier in their classrooms, one of the mothers told Mr. Bush, "This program opens their minds, gets their brains moving. Head Start is planting a seed."
Later, the President of the United States bent down and sat in a child's playhouse so he could hold make-believe phone conversations with the kids. When some children tried to shoo their classmates away, the president said, "No, no. this is an open house."
After the speech, Mr. Bush and Governor Schaefer met for 10 minutes in the school's lunchroom. The governor said he believes Mr. Bush is sincere about improving the nation's education system.
Not everyone, though, was impressed by the flurry of activity, the White House advance people and the arrival of Marine One, Mr. Bush's helicopter.
"I think it's nice they put us on the map, but it's not going to help our community," said Nancy Stanton, who works for the Community Assistance Network, an anti-poverty and social services agency. "The trip has nothing to do with the reality of poverty and the recession," she said. "I wish he'd seen my desk piled high with eviction notices."