It's 8:30 a.m. Some of us are just drinking our coffee. Susan White-Bowden is telling a group of fifth-graders about moonbeams in a dark time.
Into the hush that follows her announcement that her son died when he was only 17, she explains that her granddaughter gave that name to a picture she had made. The picture helped Mrs. White-Bowden realize that her granddaughter was a moonbeam in her dark time.
"Even in a dark time, remember that something else will happen," she tells the students. "There will be a moonbeam in your dark times, too."
She named one of her three books after her granddaughter's picture.
Mrs. White-Bowden, author, past chairwoman of the Governor's Task Force on Self-Esteem and for 22 years a television reporter, told the Just Say No Club -- the fifth grade of Eldersburg Elementary -- several anecdotes from her own life to illustrate the points she made about self-esteem.
"Does anybody know what self-esteem means?" she asks. "Confidence," say some children. "Yes! Feeling good about yourself and the things you do," she agrees.
The frosty morning sun slants through the windows as she tells them to think, every day, about what was the best thing they did that day.
"Sometimes it could be something you did to make someone else feel good, something like telling them how well they did in a game," she says. "This makes you feel good, too, because you can see in their faces how good you made them feel, and you did that. You have the power to make other people feel good."
She relates a story about one of her first experiences as a volunteer in the pediatric unit of a hospital. She visited a horribly burned child each week, bringing him toys and books from her own children's collection.
After the child recovered, a nurse told her how at bath time --
which is terribly painful for a burn victim -- the child would sob repeatedly, to comfort himself, "on Wednesday the play lady will come, Wednesday the play lady will come."
She had never realized how important she had been to that child until then, and she says realizing how important she was to someone else made her feel good about herself.
To illustrate methods of helping yourself and others feel good, she asks the children to tell her one thing they like about themselves.
"My imagination," says one.
L "My basketball skills," "my gymnastics ability," say others.
"Wonderful!" says Mrs. White-Bowden. "That's really great."
Imagination, generosity and kindness are things to be proud of ++ too, she tells the crowd. "We have to work at it."
Then, to make the children feel even better, she asks them questions about their special abilities. One child gives her a sample of her handwriting. "This is nice. Very nice! She writes nice," she reports, for the benefit of the children and parents who can't see the sample. "Did you practice a lot to be able to write this well?"
Practice things you would like to do well, Mrs. White-Bowden tells the children. You can even teach yourself how to do things, and then you practice them. That makes you feel good, because you can see your improvement.
This makes a chain, she explains, because your accomplishments make you feel good, so you try harder and accomplish more. This makes you feel even better, so you try some more, and so on.
"It just keeps growing," she beams.
Feeling good about yourself, she says, will help you when your friends approach you about drugs.
"It's easier to say 'Yes,' " she tells the students. "It's easier to go along with the crowd. But when you feel good about yourself, you have the strength to say, 'I'm not going to do that,' and you can go and do the things that you want to accomplish.
"I don't think I could have done all the things I have done in my life if I didn't have a wonderful mom and dad who told me from the time I was little that I could do anything I put my time and energy into," Mrs. White-Bowden tells the crowd, drawing smiles from the parents.
"Sometimes you need some support, and don't be afraid to ask for it."
The Just Say No Club, which sponsored the speech, consists of the entire fifth grade at Eldersburg Elementary.
At the place where the group holds its monthly meetings, the walls are adorned with banners proclaiming: "Just Say No! Be Drug Free," and "3 Steps to Say No -- Figure out if what your friend wants to do is OK. If it's wrong, say no. Suggest other things to do instead."