When Gov. Deval Patrick and his aides pulled up to Morris Elementary School on Friday afternoon, the welcoming party of awestruck youngsters was warm and enthusiastic, befitting a big-league celebrity.
Which he was, in their eyes. But Patrick, with an easy informality and charm, made his way down the corridor, personally greeting each of the fourth-graders lined up against both walls. "Aren't you guys supposed to be in class?" he quipped.
"You guys just happened to be lined up here?" Patrick asked. "Waiting for the bus? What time is the bus? Like an hour from now?"
"We just wait here all day," chirped one youngster, laughing.
Entering the library with three classes respectfully on their feet, Patrick greeted them warmly -- "How are you?"
"Are you the fifth grade?"
"Do you always answer everything in unison?"
"That must make your job easier," Patrick joked to school administrators and teachers.
Among the first to greet the governor was fifth-grader Jacob Munch, who had met Patrick at a book-signing for his memoir "Reason to Believe" last winter.
"I thought it might be cool to invite him to my school so more people could meet him and so he could expand on his job and his life as governor," the 10-year-old said.
Asked about his major inspiration when he was younger, Patrick offered his highest praise for "amazing, incredible teachers," especially one "who made me imagine what it might be like to be a citizen of the whole world. What a gift being able to imagine like that was.
Addressing faculty members standing behind their students, he called out: "Thank you, teachers, and stay in touch with them, because I'll bet there are some who've made a difference in your life, too."
Asked about his "favorite thing about Massachusetts," Patrick responded without hesitation, and to much applause, "The Berkshires." He went on to confess that "when I'm in Merrimack County, I say my favorite thing is Merrimack County."
"Massachusetts students are No. 1 in the nation in achievement," he declared, "so you have a lot to be proud of. I think that respect for education is a big deal here."
When a student wondered whether he had any pets, Patrick mentioned the black Lab waiting for him in his car. "Can I bring him in?" he asked, but he was advised gently that it was against the rules. "He's two and a half, still thinks he can fit in my lap, but he's the size of a pony now."
"Do you like being governor?" another fifth-grader asked. "It's a blast, yeah, it's a lot of fun," Patrick replied. "A lot of days are hard, and long, and a lot of the decisions are really hard, but we're trying to make big decisions that will make things better."
"Have a great weekend," the governor urged as he was ushered to his next stop. "You too," the students chimed back. With great amusement, Patrick politely declined one student's offer of a miniature elephant.
Moving on to Sharon Kennedy's third-grade classroom to read aloud part of a state history book by children's author Lynne Cherry about pollution of the Nashua River by paper mills, Patrick stopped frequently to question students about big words and about efforts to cleanse the river.
After chatting with the third-graders about their summer-vacation plans, the governor urged them to "do some reading this summer, it's the most important thing you can do, that you love reading and do a lot of it."
"This group loves, loves, loves to read!" Kennedy exclaimed.
After a group photo with the students, it was time for Patrick to move on and for class dismissal.
"It's so fortunate, they'll never forget this," the clearly moved teacher told The Eagle. "My students were so excited, I'm so proud of them."
Added John Pignatelli, former selectman and the retired dean of local government: "It was a super day for the town."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.
Dear Governor Patrick:
My name is Jacob Munch. I am in 5th grade at Morris Elementary School in Lenox, Massachusetts. I met you at your book-signing in Great Barrington. Could you possibly come to Morris and have a presentation about your job? I like politics so I was wondering if you could share your experiences.
Thank you very much!
P.S. I really liked your autobiography, "A Reason to Believe"!