Stranded governor drops in on elementary students

Palin makes most of an unexpected stop in Ketchikan

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007

KETCHIKAN - Gov. Sarah Palin had planned to meet with Exxon Tuesday in Juneau but instead found herself in Ketchikan, where she sought out an invitation to read aloud to children at Houghtaling Elementary School.

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She also answered first-graders' questions, danced with kindergartners and implored all the children to read at home with their families.

Many air travelers became stranded due to weather conditions in Southeast Alaska in recent days. Palin recounted her hectic experiences while attempting to get to Juneau aboard a Department of Public Safety twin-engine Beechcraft.

"We left Kodiak on Sunday," she said, "then to Anchorage (because) we couldn't get to Hooper Bay on Monday; instead, spent it in Anchorage. Yesterday afternoon, we tried to fly into Juneau. Circled around, couldn't do Sitka even; landed in Ketchikan, spent the night, will try to do Juneau later.

"We stayed in Ketchikan last night, thinking that we were going to try early this morning to get back to Juneau. But I had this meeting with Exxon this morning and I'm like, 'Hmmm, Exxon? Or go to kindergarten classes in Ketchikan? What is more fun and productive? It's going to kindergarten class.'

"And the very first school I called, they said: 'Sure, we'd love you to come read, or anything."'

The governor, who was accompanied by her 16- and 14-year-old daughters, stayed at The Landing Hotel Monday night, according to Alaska State Trooper Lt. Rodney Dial.

Her visit to Houghtaling began at 10 a.m. in teacher Kimberly Berg's first-grade classroom. Along with Berg's students, Gretchen Klinger and Jennifer Simpson's first-graders also joined the fun.

After reading several books by Alaska authors to the 48 students, Palin opened the floor to questions.

To one first-grader, Palin explained the governor's job.

"A governor is elected by the voters in the state," she said, to help make decisions and to provide money for schools and police departments and other things the state needs.

"Kind of a manager of the state," Palin said. "I'm the ninth governor of the state."

One student asked about Palin's clothing.

"Most governors in the past, they've all worn a suit and a tie," Palin said. "But every governor in the past has been a man. So, for the first time, you're going to see a governor wearing a dress. They can wear whatever they want, though."

Another child remarked: "The governor wears necklaces."

Palin responded: "This governor does. And bracelets, yes."

A little girl summed up: "The governor's wearing makeup and glasses and put up their hair and they have earrings on and they wear skirts and boots."

"Good observation," Palin said, adding that there are nine women governors in the United States of America, "and so other women governors probably do the same thing."

The first-graders were very interested in Palin's children.

The governor explained that she has a 17-year-old boy, and girls aged 16, 12 and 5.

The two older girls were in Ketchikan on Tuesday, Palin said, but the youngest was in school, in kindergarten.

Regarding the 5-year-old, a young student shouted out:

"She's going to be six."

"Yes," Palin said, "she's going to be six."

"I knew it!" the student shouted back.

One child asked whether Palin had a fish in her office.

"I wish we did," Palin replied. "You know, we don't even have a fish. I think we need something to lighten up the place."

Palin also volunteered to read to the school's 39 students in its two kindergarten classes, taught by Michelle Dyakanoff and Connie Wingren

In the kindergarten class, Palin read "Green Eggs and Ham" in fine Dr. Seuss style.

Then the whole class read aloud, with Palin, from the book, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?" by Bill Martin Jr.

Dyakanoff roused the children to stand up to perform the "Tootyta Dance" by author Dr. Jean Feldman.

Palin joined in, going through the motions with the children and singing "Thumbs up, elbows back, feet apart, knees together ... Ah tootyta, ah tootyta, ah tootytata!"

To both classes, as she departed, Palin thanked the teachers and children "for letting me be here and letting me read to you, and promise me that you'll read a lot and you'll read in your own homes at night with your family, 'cause that's the most fun thing to do in the world."

She asked the kindergartners for a round of applause for their "amazing" teachers.

On her way out the door, Palin shook hands with school secretary Tami Daniels, who had received Palin's call earlier in the morning, and said, "There's no place I'd rather be."

"That was really special that she did that," Wingren said of Palin's visit to the school.

Shortly before noon, Palin gathered her pilot and Alaska State Trooper escort in the hallway and departed the building.

Palin departed Ketchikan International Airport for Juneau in the early afternoon.

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