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Georgia's first lady visits Clayton students

By Greg Gelpi

Story time at Arnold Elementary School was visited by a special guest Wednesday.

"I don't have all of the responsibilities (of governor)," Georgia's first lady Mary Perdue said with a grin. "I get to do what I want, and what I like to do is read to students."

With legs folded and heads resting in their hands, the children listened attentively, responding with "tree" to hand gestures from the first lady in the interactive reading.

Reciting one of her favorite stories, one she knew nearly by memory, Perdue read "Miss Twistey's Tree" to the first-grade class. She has read the book to 37 other schools since her husband took office and has read it several times to her own children and grandchildren.

"I think it is important for children to feel that they are worth our time," Perdue said.

Fresh in from recess and riled up, the children huddled on the carpeted floor in front of a yellow whicker reading chair. Earlier, the children squealed, jumped up and down and hugged each other in anticipation of the visit, second-year Devon Shaw said.

Finishing the story, the first lady discussed the moral with the children and asked if they had any questions about her or the governor.

"Do you have a swimming pool?" Kimberly Robinson asked shyly.

Looking around the room before leaving, she said that she saw one or two future governors in the class.

While touring the state on business, Perdue frequently tacks on a short side trip to read at a nearby school to "stay in touch" with children.

"I think it's probably me (that enjoys it most), but I hope the students enjoy it too," Perdue said.

Shaw's students spend a large part of the day reading, the teacher said. Buckets of books function as centerpieces on their clusters of desks, they begin the day with story time and they also read in groups and pairs in their spare time.

Perdue also visited Rainbow House, a home for abused children, while in Jonesboro as part of her Our Children Campaign. As a mother, grandmother and foster mother, she has dedicated herself to fighting for the rights of the state's abused and neglected children by raising awareness and increasing volunteerism to help needy children.