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Vice President Biden relishes give and take with Oakstead students

LAND O'LAKES — Kelly Keene's fifth-graders tried to focus on their reading lesson Tuesday morning, but their attention was clearly elsewhere.

Reporters and photographers huddled in a corner of the Oakstead Elementary School classroom, while the students clicked pictures with their own cameras and waited for what seemed like forever.

The door to their portable classroom opened just before noon, and a dark-suited Secret Service agent stuck in his head.

"I've got a little visitor for you," the agent said.

"A little one?" 11-year-old Stefan Simms responded, as Vice President Joe Biden walked in.

"He looks pretty big to me," said Thomas Walls, also 11, to laughter.

Biden visited Oakstead to talk about jobs. During a speech to invited guests, he touted the Obama Administration's American Jobs Act, which proposes $25 billion to modernize 35,000 public schools and $30 billion to save close to 400,000 teaching jobs.

But before the speech, Biden was all about the kids.

He asked briefly about their lesson, then launched into a story about how he hated to read aloud when he was a youngster because he stuttered. He quickly settled in, wading to the middle of the room and sitting in a student-sized chair among the class while he talked.

He wasted no time in letting the kids ask their questions.

It didn't take long to get a stumper: How often does the president use his pocket veto?

"I don't think the president has made a pocket veto," Biden told Andrew Spina, 10, who asked the question, adding that Obama has threatened to veto a handful of bills he doesn't like.

Later, Biden admitted to the crowd listening to his speech that he actually got it wrong. There had been one.

"These kids are smart," Biden said, admitting to being surprised by the question.

The students asked him a variety of other questions, from what he does every day (lots of high-powered meetings) to his favorite pastimes (time with family).

Biden reveled in the give and take, fielding several questions even after being advised he needed to get back to the adults who were waiting to hear him speak.

"The only really good thing in the world is you guys," he told the class.

"What kind of vehicle do you travel in?" asked Kaylee Gaither, 10.

Biden looked at her, and said she reminded him of his granddaughter. He hugged the girl, who called the personal interaction "pretty cool."

He told her he rides in secure limousines and Suburbans. But what he misses, he said, is his vintage Corvette that sits in his garage.

"They won't let me drive it," he said, pointing at the Secret Service agents.

That surprised Caitlin Swan, 10.

"I thought they would let him drive to work himself," she said later.

"Yeah," added Jonathan Monsour, also 10. "He's a full grown man."

The students had read up on the jobs bill and Biden before his visit, so they knew the vice president had a German shepherd named Champ. At the end of the visit, Biden handed out toy stuffed versions of Champ to each kid.

He hustled out of the classroom to return to the media center for his talk. But he couldn't resist one more diversion.

Seeing children playing on the school fields, he stopped to shoot baskets, as well as photos, with the students.

"I really don't want to go home," he said later. "I enjoyed it a great deal."

So, too, did the children.

"It was so, just, I can't explain how honored I was and just ecstatic about what happened," said Rocco Cardinale, 10. "It's a once in a lifetime thing."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Vice President Biden relishes give and take with Oakstead students 10/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 8:37pm]
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