Batiste Cultural Arts students recount visit to White House

“She (first lady Michelle Obama) talked about never giving up on yourself and if you work hard you can achieve anything you want.” Torey Bovie, fifth-grader, Batiste Cultural Arts Academy

For Torey Bovie, a fifth-grader at Batiste Cultural Arts Academy, the highlight of his recent trip to Washington D.C. was watching President Barack Obama land on the White House grounds in his helicopter.

The president got out and waved, said Torey, who was watching with 20 of his classmates from the front lawn.

The students were invited to Washington D.C. for an exclusive speech from first lady Michelle Obama and a special screening of the movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with filmmakers and Oscar-nominated Houma actress Quvenzhané Wallis.

Emily Steffan, assistant principal at Batiste, said that they received the invitation from Obama’s Committee on Arts and Humanities only about a week before the trip.

The school is part of the “Turnaround Arts Commission” grant, an initiative launched in 2012 to turn around low-performing schools with an emphasis on arts education.

During their trip during the week of Feb. 11, the Batiste kids met with students from Savoy Elementary School in D.C., another of the eight schools nationwide that were selected for the grant.

Through the initiative, Steffan said that the school went from offering art and music after school to offering it during each school day for every student. Through the arts-integrated lessons, she said she has noticed students mastering lessons much faster.

It was a bit of a scramble to get everything in order, Steffan said, and they are still raising funds to cover the costs, but it was an offer they simply could not pass up.

For sixth-grader Angela Wilson, who said she wants to be governor of Louisiana when she grows up, the highlight was seeing the president and the first lady, as well as other politicians.

The trip included a visit to Rep. Cedric Richmond’s office.

Joined by the students from Savoy, Torey said he sat in the front row for Michelle Obama’s address.

“She talked about never giving up on yourself and if you work hard you can achieve anything you want,” Torey said. He described her as kind, encouraging and respectful.

Angela said she was like a “normal person,” and told the students to, “Be smart about yourself and smart about your mind and your body.”

Steffan said it was very moving when Michelle Obama told the students that, “The president and I love you very much and believe in you and are proud of you.”

Meeting the Obamas’ dog Beau, who they described as calm and well-trained, was another highlight for the students.

Torey said that “Beasts of the Southern Wild,’’ was a “very good movie that showed that no matter what comes in your way to have to stand up and fight to get where you are trying to go.”

Angela said she liked that it took place in Louisiana and dealt with real subjects, such as the levees, and that the message she got out of it was that “People should stick together.”

At 9 years old, two years younger than Torey and Angela, they said that Quvenzhané “acts like an adult.” Torey said he gave her special Mardi Gras beads with shrimp boots and shrimp.

Torey and Angela said they had fun ice-skating for the first time, despite the falls, and visiting monuments and museums, especially the National Museum of Natural History.

Torey said the new Martin Luther King Jr. monument was his favorite because, “They carved the body out of stone and said that it was a piece of hope out of a mountain of despair.”

Angela said she liked all the monuments because “They all had different messages.”

The weather was very cold, they said, and on the bus trip back, they saw snow in Virginia.

Steffan said the students were selected based on excellent academic and behavior performance all year.

The students returned from the five-day trip Feb. 16.

Torey said he didn’t even think about missing Mardi Gras while he was away.