Makenna, a third-grader at Hammond Elementary in Laurel, was one of 200 children at the school to receive a ticket to the Obama family's first Halloween celebration at the White House. No one at the school is exactly sure how it was chosen, but they don't care. They're still basking in their brush with one of the most powerful families in the world.
"It was phenomenal," said Principal Judy Bland, who called the experience one of her most memorable in her 36 years of education. "It was a wonderful luck of the draw that we were the only school from Howard County selected. We are still trying to figure out why."
Bland found out that her school would receive the tickets a week before Halloween. She and some of her staff met for four hours that Sunday, choosing and contacting students and parents. Ticket winners were picked at random by a computer, according to Bland. Students were responsible for their own transportation to the two-hour event on Halloween.
More than 2,000 students from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia attended the event.
The students and parents were treated to a White House that was transformed into "an age-appropriate" Halloween celebration, according to Bland. There were a number of actors dressed up as various Halloween-themed characters. Artists painted designs on the faces of students. A man dressed as a tree walked around on stilts. Everyone received a trick-or-treat bag. The president and first lady passed out a number of goodies to students, including some from Hammond.
"Parents and students were very overwhelmed," said Bland, who said she was excited to find that she and the first lady were both dressed as leopards. President Obama was dressed in casual clothing. "It was breath-taking - the whole event. I think these will be memories for these children and adults for a lifetime."
Makenna was one of the Hammond students who got to speak with the president.
"President Obama told me, "You're an Indian,' " Makenna recalled. "I said, 'Yes, but I'm Pocahontas.' "
Makenna particularly enjoyed her trick-or-treat bag that contained a White House-shaped cookie.
"It was the most exciting Halloween ever," Makenna said. "My mom went. She thought it was really cool. She said that this was the best Halloween she's ever had."
Jack Lawrence, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at the school, found the experience surreal.
"It made me kind of laugh," said the Laurel resident, who was dressed as a wrestler. "I looked around, and it looked like there were billions and billions of security because it was the president."
Jack said the first lady handed him his trick-or-treat bag filled with a cookie, M&Ms;, dates and mangoes.
"I was very excited because I got to meet the president and I had never been to the White House before," he said. "I've seen them on TV before, and they looked the same, except Mrs. Obama was wearing a cat costume. My mom was very excited because I got to meet the president. She thought it was great. And so did my dad."
Christina Barrett, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at the school, didn't get to meet the president or first lady, but she said she still had a fantastic time.
"They went in three minutes before I got to them," she said. "I thought it was cool just to be able to go to the first Halloween they had at the White House."
Christina was a little apprehensive about dressing as a purple tissue box but soon discovered that her costume was a hit.
"A lot of people liked it," she said. "I thought it would be weird to wear that in public."
Christina was most impressed with the overall atmosphere of the event.
"The White House looked pretty," she said. "I liked the lights and the decorations that they used."
Bland, who was writing a note thanking the president, his family and his staff for hosting the event, said she plans to have the students write their own letters of thanks.
"We do a lot of fabulous things here, but this is something unique and different," Bland said. "It's very special."