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January 8, 2003

New First Lady wows students at charter school for deaf

From: Minneapolis Star Tribune, MN - 08 Jan 2003

Susie Vang
Star Tribune

On her second day as Minnesota's First Lady, Mary Pawlenty admitted to students at Metro Deaf Charter School in St. Paul that she doesn't know much about her new job. But, she said, she knows a lot about being a judge.

The hands shot up.

Between interpreter Richard Laurion and Pawlenty, who learned some American Sign Language for her visit, their questions got answered.

"Do you know what channel 'Court TV' is?" a student asked through Laurion.

"Are you strict on bad people, say, on bad behavior?" asked another.

Yet another wanted to know: "Is the judge's chair high?"

The 30 children grinned and never stopped paying attention to what Pawlenty had to say about the court system and the expectations of a judge. Even when she began drawing on the whiteboard to explain the layout of the courtroom, she held their attention. In fact, the students hardly noticed the TV news cameras until one asked why the First Lady had wires sticking out of her shirt. They were for the microphones, she explained.

In a room lined with multicolored art projects, Pawlenty read "Wemberly Worried" by Kevin Henkes as part of one of the weeklong activities related to the gubernatorial inauguration of her husband, Tim Pawlenty.

"This book applies not just to students, this applies to adults. . . . A good book for everyone, even the governor. We should have read this one for my husband," Mary Pawlenty said.

Lexie Werness, 11, a fifth-grader, anxiously waved her hands in the air to ask questions. She also told Pawlenty that she wanted to be a politician -- but not a governor.

Lexie was delighted with the book and impressed with the First Lady.

"I like the fact that . . . she took the time to come here and read to us," she signed to Laurion.

Barb Boelter, the office administrator at Metro Deaf Charter School, expressed similar appreciation. Pawlenty spent more than an hour at the school and invited the students on a field trip to her courtroom. She spent about 30 minutes just answering questions before the school officials ended the session.

The First Lady's efforts to learn a little sign language also won her praise.

"I was impressed with the fact she took the time to learn more than just 'hello,' " said Boelter. "It was really obvious she felt comfortable with [the students]."

As Mary Pawlenty visited the charter school, Tim Pawlenty was visiting John A. Johnson, a St. Paul school that has a partnership with the YMCA. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau paid a call to Jenny Lind Elementary School in Minneapolis, a school she's visited before. Governor's spokesman Dan Wolter said the visits were intended to reach out to schools and highlight different styles of education.

© Copyright 2003 Star Tribune.