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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
July 15, 2004

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Alpha Kappa Alpha National Convention
Opryland Resort and Convention Center
Nashville, Tennessee

3:25 P.M. CDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all. Thanks so much, Dr. Doty. Thank you, Dr. Doty. Thank you for this. And I'm so thrilled to have had the chance to see all of these young authors that are before you. And thank you, Madam President, for your leadership and for your commitment to children. Thanks to all of you for your warm welcome to the 61st Alpha Kappa Alpha Boule.

I'm please to be here with Secretary Paige, who is a great advocate for education and a good friend to President Bush and me. Thank you very much for coming, Dr. Paige. (Applause.)

And I'm so happy to recognize these talented young authors. They may provide some competition in book sales for all the other authors who are around today. (Laughter.)

This young authors program is exemplary. Through writing and storytelling, children learn that education is important and that they're important. In the pages of this book, they share their thoughts about friendship, family, character. They show us what they've learned and what their parents and teachers have taught them. I'm very proud to add The Spirit Within to my library. (Applause.)

I especially like Devon Long's story, entitled "The Person I Admire the Most and Why." Seven-year-old Devon admires her great aunt, Jo-Jo, who is an assistant principal. Aunt Jo-Jo takes Devon to her school to play teacher, and to McDonald's for a special girls' lunch. And they go to church, where Devon gets to wear her favorite pink-and-green dress. I think you have a Soror in the making. (Laughter and applause.)

But Devon writes, and I quote, "It's not always good times with Aunt Jo-Jo. She means business when it comes to school. She tells me, Devon, you have the brains to be anything. When I put off my homework, my mom says, I'm going to call your aunt. You better believe I stop what I'm doing and do my homework." (Laughter.)

Aside from learning the importance of education, Devon has learned from her aunt that she can achieve her dreams. Along with her Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters, Aunt Jo-Jo is a remarkable role model for Devon and for millions of other girls.

I also try to set an example through my work. And according to some kindergarten students who wrote to me, I do some pretty extraordinary things. Their teacher asked them what they thought I did all day, and their responses give some indication of the wide range of my responsibilities. (Laughter.)

A little girl named Shelby wrote that I help the President with his paperwork and then I help him clean his office and I take care of him when he's sick and put cold cloths on his head. (Laughter.)

Shelby wasn't the only child who was worried about the President's health. Meagan said that I feed the dogs, I plant the daffodils and I do the President's speeches when he isn't feeling well. (Laughter.)

On the other hand, Todd thought there was more manual labor involved in my job, but that I always looked good doing it. (Laughter.) He wrote that I wear pretty suits and I shovel the snow and feed the birds. (Laughter.)

But of course, what I really get to do is take part in events like this, where we celebrate the promise of children and the power of women. (Applause.)

For nearly a century, the women of AKA have played a vital role in advancing social change, oftentimes against great odds. In the early 1900s, women didn't have the right to vote, schools were segregated, and few African American women could attend college. Ethel Hedgeman Lyle and nine other black women were fortunate to attend Howard University in 1908. (Applause). They knew how fortunate they were, and they believed they had a responsibility to share their blessings with others. They formed the sisterhood of Alpha Kappa Alpha to do just that.

What started as a small band of women has grown into an army of determined sisters. From Ethel to Rosa Parks to Hazel Taylor-Wright, who at 102, has devoted five decades of her life to service, the women of AKA have made and shaped history. (Applause.)

You teach us that, although one person alone can't do everything, 170,000 strong can do anything. (Applause.) And you remind us that the answers to some of our most pressing problems are found in our communities, in our churches and in our hearts.

President Bush likes to tell a story about the power of compassion that he heard from Pastor Tony Evans of Dallas. Pastor Evans said that once there was a man who had a crack in the wall of his home, so he hired a painter to come cover the crack, but two weeks later the crack reappeared. So he sent out for another painter, and that painter filled the crack and painted over it but, once again, it appeared. Finally, he found a wise painter who said, sir, you'll never fix the crack until you fix the foundation. (Applause.)

Through acts of service and love, you strengthen the foundation of America. And by improving the education of our children, you strengthen the future of our country.

Some people think of education as the three R's, reading, writing and 'rithmetic. But another R is essential, and that's responsibility. Each of us has the responsibility to advance education in America.

Certainly, President Bush considers this to be one of his greatest responsibilities. He worked with the United States Congress to change public education in America because too many children from our poorest schools were being left behind. It's unconscionable to leave any child behind, especially when we know that every child can learn. (Applause.)

President Bush and the United States Congress are investing more money in education, in elementary and secondary education than ever before in our nation's history. Through the No Child Left Behind Act, historic levels of funding have been combined with unprecedented commitment to using proven methods of instruction, achieving high standards and requiring accountability to ensure that America's schools are producing real results for every single child.

George and I travel to schools across the country and we see the impact that education reform is having in our classrooms. Yesterday, I visited Hueytown Elementary School in Alabama, where teachers are spending the summer, which is usually the time of their well-deserved break, teaching children who need extra help in learning to read. In fact, the teachers across the state of Alabama are incorporating research-proven reading curriculum into all classrooms to ensure that every child learns to read.

And last week, I visited George Kelly Elementary in the Chelsea neighborhood of Boston. More than 80 percent of the kids in Chelsea are from low-income families. George Kelly Elementary received a federal Reading First grant to improve reading. At George Kelly, teachers are trained in research-proven methods to teach reading. Every student in kindergarten through third grade receives individual attention in phonemic awareness, vocabulary and comprehension. And teachers use student assessments to adjust their teaching.

This increased focus on reading is making a huge difference. On the state assessment test, third graders at Kelly Elementary improved their reading proficiency from 33 percent in 2001 to nearly 50 percent last year. (Applause.)

Teaching our children to read is the most critical educational priority facing our country. Children who do not learn to read by third grade continue to find reading a challenge throughout their lives. These expectations increase in amount and complexity each year.

When my husband was governor of Texas and Secretary Paige was superintendent of the Houston School District, George started the Texas Reading Initiative to provide scientifically based reading instruction for all students. And one of your AKA sisters, Phyllis Hunter, managed the reading program for the Houston School District. (Applause.)

Phyllis Hunter once said that reading is the new civil right. And the President has never forgotten her powerful words.

Children who don't learn to read at an early age usually never learn. And by the time they reach high school, they are the ones who drop out. This is why the work you're doing with the Ivy Reading AKAdemy is so vitally important. Through hands-on activities and one-on-one tutoring in reading, you're helping to boost a child's skills and their self-esteem.

Students who have adults who care about their learning are more confident in school. And children who are exposed to a variety of literature are eager to read more. By volunteering to read with children and to foster their love of learning, you're showing your commitment to leave no child behind. And as generations of Sorors have done throughout your history, you're making a remarkable difference. (Applause.)

Thanks to the Reading AKAdemy, Principal Walters at the Walton School in Mississippi has seen a huge improvement in student scores and attendance. The students are excited to come to class and to share what they've learned with their tutors.

AKA AKAdemy students have improved dramatically in oral reading, comprehension and language. In fact, two years ago, Walton was a level three school, which is considered an average school under state standards. Principal Walters said that in part, because of AKA, the school received a level four rating this year, which is exemplary. (Applause.)

I know I can speak for all Americans when I say that we appreciate all that you do to ensure that every child receives an excellent education. From the Ivy Reading AKAdemy to the young authors, to your book drive, to the community seminars for No Child Left Behind, you continue to uphold the priorities and the founding principles of AKA.

In his story, Proud to be an American, young author Maurice McCaulley said, "Being an American makes me special. All that the rights that I have, I wish other people could have, too. I get to choose my own friends and to get a good education to become anything I want to be. I will fight for what I believe in and help other people who are having trouble." (Applause.)

Because of you, children like Maurice are learning the importance of education and the meaning of compassion and service. Nearly a century ago, 10 remarkable women formed a sisterhood of service to all mankind. You honor their achievements as you continue their legacy, and you pave a path for future generations so that every child will have the opportunity to succeed, and no child will be left behind.

Thank you all very, very much for everything you do. It's an honor to be with you today.

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