WASHINGTON – Even though she said she hasn’t slept since Sunday, Adela Acosta expected to be wide awake Tuesday night as she sat with first lady Laura Bush for the president’s first speech to Congress.
“What more could I ask for?” asked Acosta, a Prince George’s County elementary school principal. “This is the American dream.”
Acosta, who emigrated from Puerto Rico as a child, oversees a student body at Cesar Chavez Elementary that is 95 percent black or Hispanic. The first lady was visiting the Hyattsville-area school Monday when she extended the invitation to Tuesday’s speech.
“I am so encouraged when they come to a school like ours,” said Acosta. “It has been a great, great lift to the community.”
The first lady chose Chavez Elementary largely because of Acosta, who “came to this country without speaking a word of English and now she’s in the position to mentor young people,” said Noelia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Laura Bush. “She’s (Acosta) a terrific role model.”
Chavez Elementary personifies the successes of the standards and accountability movement that the president is pushing in his education initiatives, Rodriguez added. The school was also chosen because of the diversity of its students and “because of the first lady’s commitment to visiting schools in the D.C. area,” the spokeswoman said.
Monday’s visit was not Acosta’s first brush with the Bush family.
Acosta was one of 14 educators from across the country who sat with President Bush on Jan. 22, one of his first workdays in office, to talk about education reform. The next day, Bush formally introduced his education initiatives.
Rodriguez said the president was impressed by Acosta. “He kind of really likes her,” she said.
The first lady, joined by Education Secretary Rod Paige, launched her own education initiatives Monday at Chavez Elementary. The highlight was her pledge to travel the country, recruiting teachers and encouraging military retirees to join the teaching ranks.
The first lady, who has been both a public school teacher and librarian, said she knows how underappreciated teachers are.
“I’ve been there. It’s often a difficult job, but it’s a rewarding one,” she said Monday.
Among the initiatives she highlighted is a White House pledge to boost the Troops to Teachers program from the current $3 million to $30 million.
“President Bush has a plan to help schools succeed in their mission to teach children,” said Mrs. Bush in a prepared statement for the visit. “I want to help him keep that promise.”
Acosta welcomed the initiative, noting that the county has a severe teacher shortage.
“I think the shortage of teachers in Prince George’s County is a serious problem,” Acosta said. “I am hoping we can inspire people to become teachers and train them to become good teachers.”
Acosta, the only Latina principal in Prince George’s County, has been principal of Cesar Chavez since August 1999. Before that she was vice principal of nearby Northwestern High School.