The 550 students of Shady Spring Elementary School are practicing presidential persistence -- and hoping it pays off.
The youngsters have launched an all-school effort to get President Clinton to visit them. They've invited him once, twice, three times. And there's no end in sight.
Under the persistent guidance of kindergarten teacher Mary Boegner, who hatched the idea of a presidential visit to Shady Spring, the children will be sending weekly "care packages" to the White House.
The packages will not necessarily be filled with chocolate chip cookies -- though the children might try those -- but with pictures, prose and poetry that show the president how hard they are working and how much they would like him to stop by.
The White House gets thousands of invitations a week, and the Shady Spring youngsters are trying different approaches. The official invitation, sent during the first week of the "President's Project," is straightforward:
"We will be mailing a project to the White House every week for as long as it takes to fit us into your busy schedule. We wish to teach our students that with hard work and determination, dreams do come true. Not just for the gifted or the lucky ones but for average, everyday people, just like us."
In Week 2, a group of fifth-graders took a different tack:
If you came to Shady Spring,
So much pleasure you would bring.
If you come, we'd be so proud
Even if you're in a crowd.
We'd like to see you in our school
That would just be so cool.
"Why are we inviting him?" asks Ms. Boegner, an eight-year veteran at the school who came up with the idea last spring and worked on the details all summer.
"I tend to like that idea of a dream. The reality is you can reach for the moon. But even if you don't get to the moon, you'll touch some stars on the way."
Besides, she adds, Mr. Clinton is a good role model for Shady Spring, which is in the Kenwood section of Baltimore County, east of the city, and "reflects all cultures and all socioeconomic classes. We are a mini-America."
And, as the children put together the president's packages, they will acquire skills and information, Ms. Boegner said.
Other teachers are jumping on the bandwagon:
* One fourth-grade class will keep a bulletin board of the Clintons' comings and goings for current events.
* Another group of fourth-graders will inquire about the president's diet and White House cuisine as part of their wellness and nutrition unit.
* The gym teacher has set up a "Jog to D.C." course that simulates the trip from Shady Spring to the White House. Students will log the miles they "jog" or "walk" along the course.
* The chorus teacher is teaching the youngsters inspirational songs they could perform for Mr. Clinton.
The staff's enthusiasm and the children's interest have given the project momentum. "Without the support of your colleagues, you can't do a schoolwide project," Ms. Boegner said.
"They are real excited," said Yvonne Luken, whose fifth-graders
have written letters to Chelsea Clinton and are hoping she will be their pen pal.
"Is your life fun?" wrote student Wayne Douglas. "I voted for your dad in the school election."
Despite the momentum, the persistence, the excitement and the power of positive thinking (about three-fourths of Ms. Luken's class said they thought the President would visit), Shady Spring faces some pretty tough odds.
At last count, President Clinton was receiving about 7,000 invitations a week -- and the first lady 5,000 -- said Bart Handford, a staff assistant for scheduling at the White House.
"Unfortunately, we do have to regret most of them. We have a lot of invitations from classes," he said, though there is no separate record of school invitations.
In the White House office of student correspondence, which handles letters from anyone under 18 that do not include invitations, the traffic is also heavy.
"So far, we've received 250,000 letters since January," said staffer Laurie Abrams.
The good news is that all letters and invitations are answered. Classes that write receive a packet of information on the White House and the Clintons, including a picture of Socks the cat, Ms. Abrams said.
Mr. Handford said the scheduling office considers every invitation. "We don't just blow them off. We're more than happy to take a look at them and see what we can do. A lot of it just basically comes down to pure scheduling," he said, adding that there is no formula for how much time the president spends on public appearances.
Mr. Clinton's activities are set up 60 to 90 days ahead, said Mr. Handford, so an open-ended invitation, such as the one from Shady Spring, could be "scheduled down the road a piece."
That's fine with Ms. Boegner. "We're not giving up this year," she said. "We're looking to follow this as long as it takes. . . . My overall goal is to teach them that to get something really important you really have to work for it."
Even if the president doesn't get to Shady Spring, Ms. Boegner and the other teachers have made sure that the youngsters will be rewarded -- with extra-flashy school stickers, with media attention and with good words.
"They will know how proud we are of their work. By the time, he [President Clinton] gets all these packets, someone will notice the children's hard work," she said.
And Ms. Boegner has an alternative plan:
"If President Clinton can't come here, he can invite us to his house," she said.