84ºF

Teachers remember Barbara Bush's personal efforts for literacy at Florida school

Bush: Acts of kindness, pieces of knowledge and individual people count

photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Former first lady Barbara Bush was a frequent visitor to Florida’s capital city. She went to support her son Jeb Bush after he was elected governor and to campaign for him. She was also a major influence in Jeb Bush’s efforts to improve students' reading skills.

In April 1992, more than six years before Jeb Bush was first elected Florida’s governor, Barbara Bush went to Sealey Elementary School.

She had been invited by teachers Cheryl Cliett and Lea Reeves. Her purpose: Donate a penny in an effort to teach students about large numbers.

“We decided to collect a million pennies,” said Cliett, who teaches gifted students.

And Bush wanted to help.

“She not only put in the last penny, she put in one penny more to start us on our next million,” said Reeves, a special-needs teacher.

The then-first lady spent 45 minutes that day at the school and spoke about what she thought the program meant.

“You have absolutely confirmed what I have always felt in my heart,” she said. “Little things do count. Not just coins, but little acts of kindness, little pieces of knowledge and individual people.”

Cliett said Bush herself was incredibly kind that day, and it was clear how much she loved children.

“The whole program was just kids doing it, and Barbara was just so natural with everybody,” Reeves said.

Bush returned to the state capital for her son’s first and second inaugurations and sometimes just to visit.

Those who worked for Jeb Bush all said his mother, a staunch advocate for literacy across the United States, had a major influence on his push to improve reading scores in Florida.

Dozens of Jeb Bush’s former staffers still live and work in the capital, but those News4Jax contacted Wednesday all declined to give interviews, saying it was not staff members’ place to comment on the governor or his mother.