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Follow the first year in Congress of Freshmen Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Jay Johnson (D-WI)
Sun streamed down through skylights on to a neatly organized stage decorated with books and banners. On the stage were three dozen children dressed in plaid skirts, dark pants and white shirts, Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX) and one of the most powerful political figures in the U.S., Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).
Gingrich and Granger had come to the Merritt Elementary School, located in an economically depressed area in NorthEast Washington, to kick off Teacher's Appreciation Week by reading books to the students.
"As a former teacher I wanted to come here to highlight the important work being done in schools throughout the country by teachers," Granger said after the event.
Granger, who read Daniel's Dog to the children, explained who she was and who would be reading to them next.
"I'm in Congress now, but I taught school," she told the well-behaved audience. "We're waiting for a very important man who's the Speaker of the House of Representatives."
Gingrich emerged from the principal's office a few moments later and was quickly surrounded by local press. Eventually he waded through the crowd and on to the stage.
"My name is Newt and Newt's a pretty stranger name," Gingrich told the group before launching into Cherries and Cherry Pits.
Throughout the reading by Speaker Gingrich, media with boom microphones and cameras jostled with students to record the event.
Even the reporters for the Merritt Gazzette, the student newspaper for the school, were surprised at their professional colleagues.
"I definitely don't want to be a reporter, they're too pushy," Andre McCain, a fifth grade reporter who asked the Speaker a question about improving the District of Columbia's schools, said. "I want to be an engineer in the Navy."
Although students complained about the media, teachers said they had been warned.
"The children expected it," Mrs. Barbara Lamb, a reading teacher from the Merritt School who helped organize the event, said. "That's why they were comfortable about it."
Other students covering the event said they felt a certain amount of responsibility.
"I feel like its our chance to ask these important people to do something to help the schools," Jovan White, another fifth grade reporter, said. "Not everyone in D.C. gets to ask the Speaker of the House a question."
Gingrich said he had come to the school with Representative Granger to "celebrate" the work of public schools.
"I wanted to come here with Representative Granger, who is a former high school teacher and I was a former college teacher, to exemplify the work done in our schools across the nation every day by teachers," Gingrich said. "That is why I wanted to be here on the first day of Teacher's Appreciation Week."
According to Jim Riddlesperger, political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Granger, a former public high school teacher, was the obvious choice to accompany the Speaker.
"In recent years, Republicans have attacked the NEA, the National Education Association, and have been seen to be criticizing public teachers because of it," Riddlesperger said. "Granger is one of the few public school teachers to be in their ranks and therefore is a natural spokeperson on education issues."
Regardless of why she had been selected to participate, several students responded positively to her.
"Miss Granger wants to be something I want to be, an entrepreneur," Donneeka Rush, an 11-year-old sixth grader, said.