“Oh, my God, it’s really you!” shouted a student at Eliot-Hine Middle School in Northeast Washington, where President Biden stopped by Monday to mark the new school year. There was so much squealing and excitement that one staffer marveled, “This is like the Beatles.”
Biden, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, first visited the lunchroom — where a big banner touted the school’s valued traits of “excellence, responsibility, integrity and communications.” Then they dropped by an eighth-grade math class at the 300-student campus.
In the classroom, decorated with colorful posters that displayed math symbols and the order of operations, one student proclaimed loudly, “Joe Biden!” The president hugged one excited child and talked about whether she could someday become president.
“The hardest thing is to come back after three months of not doing any work, not doing any homework,” Biden told the students. Their teacher, Heather Thomas, explained that the class would spend the day reviewing concepts from last school year to see what everyone remembered.
Thomas later said she had only two days to prepare for the visit. She planned a brief lesson meant to engage the eighth-graders and get them excited for the year. Biden, however, had other plans.
“He just started talking and giving them some inspiration,” she said. He told everyone he had been bullied when he was younger because he was small and would stutter. “He was very personable,” Thomas added. Both the president and first lady shook every child’s hand.
Eliot-Hine was chosen for the visit, in part, because it broke trends last year when its students scored higher on a standardized test known as the PARCC exam than they did before the pandemic. Elsewhere in the city, most students saw incremental gains from 2022 — when scores plunged after virtual learning — but have not yet fully recovered to match the scores from 2019.
Nearly 34 percent of the student body at Eliot-Hine is meeting or exceeding expectations in reading, compared with about 23 percent in 2019. Math proficiency grew about three percentage points, from almost 13 percent in 2019 to nearly 16 percent in 2023, city data shows.
Children there also outperformed their peers across the city on the reading exam, officials said. City leaders pointed to the school’s participation in high-impact tutoring programs — consistent and small-group instruction — and training for math teachers.
Principal Marlene Magrino credited a number of strategies, including “super top-tier” instruction and lessons that are personalized for each student. Children spend a lot of time learning and building relationships in small groups, Magrino said.
Despite recent successes, the president’s query about the most challenging subject in school was met with a unanimous “math.” English — the subject that Jill Biden teaches at Northern Virginia Community College — received much more enthusiasm.
The first lady will resume teaching Sept. 5, she told the classroom of eighth-graders. “I’ve been working on my lesson plans and what I’m going to do the first day, so I’m excited,” said Jill Biden, who is the first woman in her role to maintain a full-time job outside the White House. “What you probably don’t know about teachers is that no matter how long you’ve been teaching, the night before you can barely sleep because you’re so excited.”
She also encouraged students to rely on their teachers for help.
“We love our students, and so if you’re going through tough times, or maybe you’re struggling a little bit in math, maybe you’re struggling a little bit at home, you know you can go to your teachers,” she said. “You can trust your teachers. We are always here for you.”