By Crystal Kassab Jabiro
Five days before First Lady Melania Trump’s Be Best initiative announcement, our school got an invitation to attend. And the principal said I could be one of the two teachers to go.
I had orchestrated First Lady Melania Trump’s visit to Orchard Lake Middle School (OLMS) in West Bloomfield back in October with my dear friend Melody Arabo, a teacher in Walled Lake and current Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education. She was asked to help with Melania’s first-ever visit to a school for “Week of Inclusion” during National Bullying Prevention Month. Melania requested a school that participates in the program “No One Eats Alone” and she also requested it not be a far plane ride from Washington, D.C. because she wanted to be home for Barron when he came home from school.
Anyhow, Melody mentioned that she knew someone who works at Orchard Lake Middle School- me-, and Secretary Betsy Devos’s office basically said, “Okay, we’ll go there!” And that’s how it happened. The First Lady and the Secretary, who is from Michigan, were quite impressed with our school and our daily social and emotional course called Viking Huddle. Three days a week are dedicated to academic tutoring and enrichment and homework time; two days are devoted to social skills and emotional well-being, discussing topics like character, communication, and making choices to name a few.
That is why we got invited to Melania’s launch of her Be Best initiative.
We left at 3 a.m. from OLMS and changed in a fitting room at the Gap an hour before we got there. I did my makeup on the bus while a sixth grader held my phone up in selfie mode as a mirror. I used my plush Angry Birds blanket as a bib while I ate my Subway, being careful not to get my dress dirty.
When we finally got to the White House, we went through a couple of security checks, one of them being with dogs. I left a gift for Melania – a notecard with a Blessed Solanus Casey wooden rosary and prayer card.
We walked through the White House to the Rose Garden and were told not to take pictures and post anything until after Melania got to make the announcement. We had the pleasure of sitting near the front, and I in the fourth row, first seat in the aisle. Exactly three people in front of me was President Donald Trump! He was sitting right next to Vice President Michael Pence and his wife, Karen. To my right, I saw Ivanka and Jared, Betsy Devos, Sarah Sanders, and Kellyanne Conway. Only later did I realize that the people in the row in front of me were bigwigs from Facebook, Microsoft, and other major media and technology companies.
Before Melania spoke, we watched a video that included our school and students. The students were excited to see themselves and their classmates in it. Then she spoke about Be Best and explained the pillars of it. She recognized our school and spoke about Viking Huddle. We couldn’t believe we were receiving such respect from the First Lady, we were very honored!
When it was over, Melody and I went up to Mrs. Pence and introduced ourselves. She was very down-to-earth, told us her dad was a teacher too, and said she saw research that shows moms and babies are not bonding because of social media. She talked to us like she had known us for a long time, and we took it to be that typical Midwestern style. We were glad to meet her and we took a picture with her. We walked over to the Kennedy Garden after for a cookies and lemonade reception, and that is when I saw Melania right in front of me.
“Mrs. Trump, I’m Crystal Jabiro, a teacher from Orchard Lake Middle School. Thank you so much for inviting us.”
“Thank you for coming. What a great school you have and what you teachers do is so important,” she responded.
We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then I asked her for a picture.
“Selfie?” she asked with a smile.
“Sure!” I exclaimed.
“Okay, come on!” she said. And she got close to me and I snapped it. She took selfies with the kids too.
The whole experience was surreal and magical. I was very proud of Melania and this initiative, and I hope it does what it sets out to do.
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