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Presidential History Fades Fast Elementary Students Get A Lesson On Presidents Many Adults Could Use

Mon., Feb. 19, 1996

(From For the Record, Tuesday, February 20, 1996:) A photo that ran on Monday’s Regional page incorrectly identified a boy holding a book in a story about Presidents Day. His name is A.J. Smith.

A century from now, Bill Clinton will be a foggy memory to most Americans.

They’ll forget his taste for fast food and his disagreements with Congress. They’ll forget Hillary Clinton’s cookies and Chelsea’s growing pains.

They’ll forget all that, even if Clinton becomes so popular people name streets, counties and schools after him.

Take it from Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and James Madison, who are among the more popular presidents-turned-place-names in the Inland Northwest. An informal, pre-Presidents Day survey of people who see those names daily show they don’t know much about the men.

“Did we have a president named Garfield? Seriously?” said John Henry.

Henry is the prosecutor/coroner - “but not the historian” - in the southeastern Washington county named for the 20th president.

“President Grant? How about Washington or Lincoln, I know about them,” said Grant County deputy auditor Judi Woods, when asked what decade the Civil War general became president.

“My favorite president was Kennedy. FDR did an awful lot for our country … But Monroe - honey, I don’t know,” said an employee at Monroe Street Self Service Laundry in Spokane.

The 70-year-old woman, who said she has a degree in history, was too embarrassed to give her name.

In fairness, the reporter asking the questions used a cheat sheet from World Book Encyclopedia. And a helpful colleague suggested calling Chester Elementary School.

“We had a president named Chester,” he said.

Yeah, Chester Arthur.

Seems a lot of adults could use a refresher from Judy Germack, second-grade teacher at Spokane’s Garfield Elementary School.

In the last three weeks, Germack’s students have learned about all 42 presidents. They wrote to President Clinton and got a letter back, along with stickers showing the White House.

They can recite an amazing array of details about the nation’s leaders.

“James Garfield …. He was assassinated,” said Dylan Mohondro, 8. “He had a lot of hair.”

Theodore Roosevelt “was named after a teddy bear,” said Brook Wohlers.

(Actually, it was the other way around, but a 7-year-old has to keep her priorities straight.)

Likewise sixth-graders at Jefferson Elementary School showed a healthy knowledge of the patriot.

“He’s the third president,” said Corry Nagashima, 12.

“Didn’t he write the Declaration of Independence?” asked Noah Cunningham, also 12.

Right on both counts.

Even kindergarten students at Progress Elementary School in the Valley could describe the hats worn by Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

They made samples of Abe’s stove-pipe hat and George’s three-pointer Friday in Carole Imus’ classroom.

“George Washington, he’s on the $1 bill,” said Danielle Jones, 5. “Lincoln is on the $16 bill.”

Cammi Garcia noticed a trend while studying the classroom chart of presidents.

“How come there isn’t a girl who’s president?” asked Garcia, 6.

“Someday maybe you’ll be president,” answered Imus.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

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