While they had the undivided attention of the state's second-highest elected official, nearly two dozen pupils at Manchester Elementary gave Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele an earful on a range of issues including late-day lunches, lack of access to the computer lab and having to attend classes in portables.
As chairman of the 31-member Governor's Commission on Quality Education, Steele came to the school in northeastern Carroll County to hear from pupils, school officials and area residents about what is working - and not working - at the school. He plans to visit at least one school in each of the state's 24 districts by May.
"We want to make sure we are providing you with the best we can," Steele told the pupils. "I want to give all of you a chance to share with me your thoughts. ... I want to see your education through your eyes, how you see it."
Steele told the pupils it was important that he hear their opinions. Among other things, he wanted to know about the condition of their school, their books and how they like their teachers.
His only ground rule for the discussion, he said, was that they be honest.
"Whatever you say won't get you sent to the principal's office," he promised.
They said that learning games - such as a version of Jeopardy! used in one social studies class - are one way that teachers help make class time fun. Others mentioned the school's computer lab as a useful supplement to classroom instruction.
But Steven Priester, 7, lamented that many pupils, including him, don't get to use the lab since the school lost its funding for the instructor who staffed it.
"Most classes don't have computer lab," he told the lieutenant governor.
The school's principal, Robert Mitchell, later said that when the school system introduced a health course to the curriculum - and a full-time health instructor at each school - money that Mitchell had used to hire a parent to run the computer lab was no longer available.
Some teachers, especially those in the upper grades, take their classes to the lab on a sign-up basis, Mitchell said. For example, some fifth-graders are learning how to make PowerPoint presentations.
But other pupils, such as Steven, are not taking classes that require use of the computer lab, Mitchell said.
When the topic turned to portable classrooms, most of the pupils agreed they don't like them.
"When it rains, it's noisy" and hard to concentrate, one pupil said.
Manchester Elementary, which has nearly 800 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade, has three portable buildings housing eight classrooms. Throughout the county, 199 portables are used to ease crowding.