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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
February 8, 2005

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Helping America's Youth Event in Maryland
George Washington Elementary School
Baltimore, Maryland

11:54 A.M. EST

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all; thanks so much. Thank you, and thank you, Principal Burgess, thank you very much for letting me visit George Washington School. And I want to thank all the teachers, especially Ms. Davis, whose class I visited this morning. And I want to thank all the parents who are out here in the crowd, as well. And I especially want to thank Governor Ehrlich and Kendel, for coming; thank you all very, very much for welcoming me here today. And Lieutenant Governor Mike Steele, thank you for being here.

I know there are also some other state and local officials in the crowd, thank you all for coming. Dr. Nancy Grasmick, who is Maryland State Superintendent of Schools, is here. Thank you very much, Dr. Grasmick. And special thanks to Bonnie Copeland and Dr. Shep Kellam and Dr. Carla Ford and Dr. Reid Lyon, all of you, for your commitment to children and for joining me today.

I'm really happy to be here. George and I have had some great visits to schools around our country. We visited a school in Hawaii a couple of years ago, and as we came in, one little 2nd-grader bellowed out, "George Washington." (Laughter.) It was close, just the wrong George W. (Laughter.) But always things happen at schools that are funny and that are unscripted, because that's the way kids are and it's so much fun to be with them. I told Ms. Davis I was envious of her -- she has a precious class and I'd love to have the opportunity that she has to be able to work with them every day.

Last week, President Bush, during his State of the Union address, proposed an initiative to help reach out to young people, especially youth at risk, and particularly young men who find themselves in gangs or with substance abuse or dropped out of school or other problems. We want all young people to grow up to lead successful lives in our country. And we want to show young men, particularly, an ideal of manhood that respects life and rejects violence.

The President has proposed $150 million over the next three years to help young people in some of our toughest neighborhoods. Encouraging children to see beyond a world of hopelessness is part of a national effort to help all young people reach their full potential. For children to have healthy beginnings and bright futures, they must be surrounded with love and learning from the moment they're born.

Since my time as an elementary school teacher and librarian, and then through my years as First Lady of Texas and now as First Lady of the U.S., I've worked to emphasize the vital importance of those first few years of life for all children. The first five years of life are critical for children to develop the physical, emotional and cognitive skills that they'll have for the rest of their lives. Infants and toddlers need parents and care-givers who read to them, who engage them in conversation and who foster their development, so when they start school, they're ready to learn.

These early years are also critical to the social and the behavioral development of young children. Research shows that children who are overly aggressive as early as the 1st grade are at a greater risk for delinquency, dropping out of school, drug abuse and depression later in life. Here in the Baltimore Public School System, children with behavioral problems in poorly managed 1st grade classrooms were up to 20 times more likely to be severely aggressive in middle school -- compared with similar children in well-managed 1st grade classrooms. Boys, especially, are at a greater risk than girls for violence, learning disabilities and juvenile arrest.

Boys often begin to fall behind girls in elementary school, and they're more likely than girls to be arrested for crimes. The Department of Justice estimates that more than 90 percent of gang members in large cities are boys. They're also more than four times likely than girls to carry a weapon to school. And by age 18, boys are 17 [sic] more likely than girls to be in jail or in prison.

At George Washington Elementary, teachers refuse to let their students become statistics. More than 20 years ago, Baltimore schools turned to Dr. Shep Kellam for help. Together, they've implemented a simple program to promote academic success and prevent behavior problems in their youngest students. In 1984, teachers in 24 schools across the city started using the Good Behavior Game in their 1st grade classrooms. This team-based strategy uses peer encouragement to help children follow rules and learn how to be good students. And the game enables teachers to build strong academic skills and positive behaviors at the same time.

First grade teacher, Phyllis Davis, says that the Good Behavior Game is making an incredible difference in her classroom. This morning, when I visited her class, I saw the positive effects firsthand. Ms. Davis divided her class into three teams. She reviewed the rules with them -- which included working quietly, being polite to each other and following directions -- the children read and then they repeated the rules, which are posted on the wall and on their desk.

Ms. Davis started the game as she began her lesson plan in reading. If a student speaks out or gets out of his chair, the entire team receives a check for bad behavior. The students quickly learn that their success is tied to their team. They count on each other and they teach each other how to follow the rules. The students are engaged in the game, but best of all, they're engaged in learning to read.

Since September, Ms. Davis has seen a dramatic improvement in her students -- especially in Malcolm. At the beginning of the school year, Malcolm was transferred from team to team because he broke the rules so often. But since October, he's been on the same team and he's working well with his classmates. His grades have also improved since the first quarter. Ms. Davis said, "Malcolm has the potential; every child has the potential; they're all special and we have to make them feel good about themselves. I have them for six hours a day, and I'm going to give them everything I have."

Phyllis, thank you so much for your dedication to children. You and every teacher deserves our deepest appreciation and respect.

The Good Behavior Game is a great example of a simple, inexpensive intervention that has a dramatic impact on a child's behavioral and academic development. Dr. Kellam has measured the program's success in Baltimore schools over the last 20 years. He's followed the progress of students from the very first year, who are 21 years old today, and the results are profound. As 1st graders, they were less aggressive and disruptive, and they responded well to their teacher. And, remarkably, 86 percent of the highest-risk students graduated from high school, compared to just 19 percent of their peers.

We want this same success for every child. As parents, teachers and community leaders, we have a personal interest in seeing that our children succeed. And as Americans, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that all children are prepared for school and for life. Just as we must read to young children to foster their cognitive development, we must also address behavioral issues early, to ensure their academic and personal success. We can't afford to wait to develop good behavioral skills in young children. Research clearly illustrates the consequences: children who don't have a strong foundation for learning by the time they're nine years old not only struggle through school, but they struggle throughout their lives. And we've seen today that there are specific interventions and promising practices that work.

The Good Behavior Game has now become part of an all-day program for 1st grade students called "The Whole Day First Grade Program." This program incorporates the Good Behavior Game with reading instruction and family classroom partnering. The family component includes weekly class meetings with parents, where parents can work on solving behavioral and academic problems with their children. Parents also take part in a monthly reading session with their children, and they can communicate with their child's teacher through the class hotline.

The Good Behavior Game helps teachers manage their classrooms and it balances discipline and academic instruction. This model is simple and inexpensive and it can work for children in schools across our country.

Over the next few months, I'll be traveling across the country visiting schools, visiting with community based and faith-based centers and programs like this one. I hope to learn more about the challenges that young people face and what we can all do to improve their lives. We can nurture our children's dreams, we can help them develop their talents and we can ensure their healthy development. And our success will not only affect the direction of their lives, but it will also affect the future of our country.

The challenges before us are great. And the time between childhood and adulthood -- as George and I can attest -- is all too short. But as teachers here at George Washington Elementary School show, each of us have the power to make a difference in a young person's life.

Now, I'm really happy to introduce Dr. Shep Kellam, who is the Director of the Center for Integrating Education and Prevention Research in Schools, and the founder of the Good Behavior Program.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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