SPRING HILL — Debbye Warrell, the librarian at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, didn't look like herself as she welcomed a second-grade class into her media center.
The pulled-back white hair and long, blue-and-white ruffled dress made her look more like Martha Washington, who had come by to greet the children.
Warrell's costume was her way of introducing students to this year's American history and civics theme: "U.S. Presidents, Men Who Dared to Dream."
In past years, Warrell has supported classroom teachers with various media center themes: the space program, folktale fantasy legends, wild animals and jungles, and pirates.
"I like to bring books to life," Warrell said.
In an effort to focus on the new Common Core State Standards for schools, Challenger is offering a new special focus — Civics in Action, or CIA — housed in a room off the media center.
"We thought it was time to bring in civics and social studies," Warrell said.
The room is guarded by Uncle Sam.
Warrell spent most of her summer redoing the decor in the media center, taking only three vacation days.
"I really, really like my job," she said.
She had help from parent volunteers, including Cindy and Tom Sierak, whose son previously attended the school. Tom Sierak, a professional artist, created a wall-size depiction of the first moonwalk in a corner of the media center, with a focus on President John F. Kennedy.
In another area, Cindy Sierak helped Warrell put together a replica of how a sitting room might have looked in George Washington's Mount Vernon home. There are two old-fashioned rocking chairs and a table with old books on it.
The room has a faux fireplace, and the windows behind the area were painted to look as if the Potomac River is flowing along just beyond the walls. A needlepoint rug, made by Warrell's great-grandmother, is on the floor. The sitting area is chained off to give it the look of a museum.
Warrell showed the second-graders an old wallet, an iron, a butter press, a cabbage cutting board and a coleslaw jar in the Washington display. Interested in the way she looked, one of the students called out: "Were you alive when he was alive?"
Hesitating only a moment, Warrell answered, "Yes, as Martha Washington."
Another corner was dedicated to President Teddy Roosevelt. Warrell has busts of him and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but is focusing this year on the earlier president, in particular his establishment of the National Park System. The walls were painted with trees for a forest-like effect.
The fourth president upon whom Warrell will focus this year is Abraham Lincoln. That area is in the back of the media center and is not quite finished. It will include a log cabin. Warrell has a butter churn there now. She will talk about the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
After walking through the displays, the second-graders had already learned things about the highlighted presidents.
"One of our presidents was part of our astronaut program," said Mariah Perez, 7, referring to Kennedy.
Mariah also was impressed with Warrell's dress and all the old items.
"I really like old-fashioned stuff," she said.
Christian Cromer, 7, said, "I didn't know that George Washington had a lake (Potomac River) right behind his house. I learned that John Kennedy died while he was in office."
Christian was also impressed with Warrell's Martha Washington costume.