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Remarks by Mrs. Laura Bush at Building A Grad Nation Summit

February 25, 2013 11 minute Read by Jacqueline Lowe

Remarks by Mrs. Laura Bush
Building A Grad Nation Summit
February 25, 2013
Washington, D.C.


Thank very much, Alma.  Thanks to you and Secretary Powell, especially for the terrific work that you both do through America's Promise.

I’m happy to be here for this Grad Nation Summit. 

I thought before I get started you might want a quick report on some of my family members.

You'll be happy to hear that my father-in -law, President George H.W. Bush is home from the hospital and doing very well. And my mother-in-law,Barbara Bush is her usual funny and feisty self.

George and I are happy that our girls are doing well.  Jenna and Henry Hager are happily married and, as many of you may know, they are expecting our first grandchild this spring!

Jenna is working as a contributing correspondent for NBC’s Today show.

George says she is just continuing the Bush family tradition of warm relations with the media.

Our daughter Barbara has founded a non-profit called Global Health Corps that places recent college graduates in the health field in underserved areas. 

Her third group of Global Health Corps fellows is at work in the United States and in five countries in Africa. 

You can learn more about Global Health Corps if you’re interested by looking on the web at ghcorps.org.

George and I are proud of the work our girls are doing…

And we're happy to be back home in Texas, living what I call “the After Life” in a state George calls “the Promised Land.”

When we left the White House, we knew we had left politics forever.  But working through the new Bush Institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, we have remained involved in the policy issues that we care the most about: human freedom, economic growth, global health, and education reform.

Education has always been a top priority for both of us: from my earliest days as a teacher and throughout George’s time as Governor of Texas and then as President.

The real influence on my decision to teach was my second grade teacher, Miss Gnagy – she was my favorite teacher and I wanted to be just like her.  So I wanted to be just like Miss Gnagy from the second grade on.

After a university degree in elementary education I applied to teach at an inner-city, predominantly minority school.  I wanted to work with children who had been left out and, too often, left behind.  I was not prepared, though, for the poverty I encountered as a teacher in an inner city Houston school.  Most of the students lived on narrow side streets behind the school building in houses with peeling paint. Some were hungry.

They would come to school in the morning with their bellies rumbling, and ravenously attack the free breakfast and lunch we gave them.

I wanted to help these children so badly, to somehow reach into their lives and make a difference. But it was an uphill fight.  Before I left that teaching job to go to graduate school, I took some of my favorite students to AstroWorld, the old amusement park near the old baseball stadium.

We picked up several eager kids but when we came to the last house, the little boy who was supposed to go with us opened the door in his underwear. Though we could hear his mother in the back of the house, she never came to the door to give us permission to take him. So all I could do was hug him goodbye with an extra squeeze and leave him standing there to watch us all drive off to AstroWorld without him.

Those days of teaching in inner-city elementary schools in Houston and Dallas were some of my most challenging, but they were also incredibly rewarding.

Later, when George was President I met outstanding education leaders in school districts all across our country.  Whether I was visiting a high school in New Orleans, or a middle school in inner-city Chicago, or an elementary school in Kansas, great leaders stood out because of their extraordinary energy and enthusiasm, and their superb organizational skills.  These outstanding leaders share the same goal: to provide a quality education so that their students become responsible, productive citizens, and life-long learners.

Like many of you here today, these great leaders are using all the resources available to them, and looking for ways to do even more, so  all of their students graduate ready for college or a career.

Through the Bush Institute’s education reform initiatives, we’re working to improve public education by emphasizing school leadership and by improving middle school education.  George and I know that accountability is absolutely critical to education reform.  Every child can learn, schools must have the highest expectations for the performance of ALL students, and school leaders must have the authority to create meaningful change when those expectations are not met.  I'd like to introduce right now our Institute's Education Reform Program Director, Dr. Kerri Briggs, and Ambassador Jim Glassman.

Through the Bush Institute’s Middle School Matters we’re focusing on improving middle school education so our middle school students become high school graduates. 

For many students, though, the middle school years are difficult.  Academic struggles are compounded by self-consciousness and peer pressure. 

Despite the challenges of middle school, we know that middle school is the best place to prepare students for success in high school. 

Research shows that many students drop out during middle school - they just leave in high school. With focused interventions, students who enter middle school struggling in core subjects can enter high school working at grade level.

The Bush Institute, with the support of the Meadows Foundation, enlisted many of the nation’s top education researchers and practitioners to develop Middle School Matters.  Experts in reading intervention, cognitive science, writing, math, advanced reasoning, school, student, family and community support, and school leadership, identified principles and practices that are proven effective for middle school students.  These research-based findings are the foundation for all aspects of our Middle School Matters initiative.

The Bush Institute will host a Middle School Institute for middle school educators and administrators.  The first session of the Middle School Matters Institute is this summer, in partnership with the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas, and thanks to the generous support of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation. 

Leadership teams from eight middle schools will receive intensive training todevelop their own school transformation plans. Three schools that attend theSummer Conference will be selected to receive additional support and training during the 2013-2014 school year.  The deadline for submitting an application is March 8th, so I hope many of you will tell your school superintendents and principals about the Middle School Matters Institute and encourage them to apply.  We look forward to welcoming schools from across the country.

We are here because we know the critical need for Building a Grad Nation in America today. The dropout crisis affects every one of us, since dropouts are less likely to be employed, vote, or volunteer, or give back to their communities, their disappearance from our economy and civic life affects all of us.  And all of us have the obligation to help. 

And because we know there are early warning indicators for students likely to drop out – poor grades in English and math, poor attendance, or a record of misbehavior we want to address those risk factors, as early as possible.

So in addition to our Middle School Matters Institute, I’m happy to announce The Bush Institute’s Summit Series focused on Early Warning Indicator and Intervention Systems, beginning this October, at the new George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

In partnership with Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and the Meadows Center for the Prevention of Educational Risk at the University of Texas, the Summit Series will help education leaders build frameworks to identify students who are off track for graduation, and train leaders to use research-based interventions for those students. I invite you to stay tuned for more information on this Summit Series.

The education challenges we face in America today are great, but greater still is our love for our children.

Not all stories end in triumph.  We all know that. And if I ever need to remind myself of that fact, all I have to do is think back to the memory of that little nine year old boy in Houston standing at his door in his underwear, the little boy who didn't get to go to AstroWorld.

He would be in his fifties now. What happened to him, I ask myself sometimes. Is he still alive? Did he manage to escape that dilapidated house in Houston with the mother who would not come to the door?

Did he find another teacher who cared about him; did he graduate from high school or even college and find a job where he was valued and where he could prove his worth? Is he standing in an airport right now, a proud father, anxiously waiting for the plane that will bring his son or daughter home at last from Afghanistan?

Or is he standing instead by the highway with a cardboard sign, or sitting by himself in an empty, joyless room, wondering how it all turned out this way?

So my challenge to you, then, is really the same challenge I have given myself: to never forget that little boy. To never forget that the work you are doing today can quite literally make all the difference in the world.

Thank you all very, very much.