First-graders write letters to George W. Bush

By Greg Gelpi

Fresh off of his State of the Union, President Bush has been taking on questions about the war in Iraq and his proposals for Social Security, but he may not be prepared to respond to a batch of letters headed his way.

"Dear Mr. President," Brad Swinney, 6, wrote. "I like your hair."

That comment along with comments and questions from other students in Catherine Tyler-Cochran's first grade class at River's Edge Elementary School will be sent to the president himself.

After learning about the president and even conducting a mock election earlier this school year, the students wrote letters to the president and published the collection of letters in a book, Tyler-Cochran, 26, said. The school is now forwarding the book to the president.

Inside the book, Zabria Walker, 6, personally invited the president to visit her and her classmates at River's Edge.

"I would show him the lunchroom," Zabria said, explaining that after working all day Bush would probably be hungry and would enjoy some carrots and soup.

As far as what the president does all day to work up such an appetite, she said that he "makes rules," such as "don't fight."

Brad Swinney, who asked Bush to file the book in his presidential library, added that he probably writes books during the day as well.

Tyler-Cochran started the project as a writing exercise for a national writing contest, the Nationwide Learning National Book Challenge.

"I just think it's a really great way to enhance writing," she said. "They pretty much had free rein."

And "free rein" produced such works as the letter from the president's "first fan" Jenna Boller-Smith, who touted her voting record during the school's mock election and support of the president.

Others asked if the president lifts weights, eats for free or has any pets.

"Dear Mr. President," which features both the letters from and pictures of the students, was picked as a finalist by Nationwide Learning, the company which publishes the student projects.

The company also chose to recognize "I Love My Family," a collection of stories written by Debby Cox's first grade class at River's Edge Elementary.

Justin Pass, 6, said in his story that he takes care of his little brother "because that's what brothers are for."

The project allowed her students to exercise the writing strategy of "power writing," a method of breaking a topic into three sub-topics and writing about each, Cox, 48, said.

According to Joe Gigous of Nationwide Learning, about 1,000 books around the country have been selected as finalists. That will be narrowed to a list of 10 winning books with each class with a winning book receiving $250. The books will then be used to help market the program to other classes and other schools.