For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
February 8, 2005
Remarks by the First Lady at Helping America's Youth Event
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
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
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
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.)
END 12:04 P.M. EST