WESLEY CHAPEL — Hours before the new president was sworn in Tuesday, 30 students from a D-rated school where nearly everyone receives free lunch were told the world was changing.
It was Inauguration Day for Barack Obama and field trip day for half of Rodney B. Cox Elementary School's fifth-grade class. They sat cross-legged on the floor of a shiny new Barnes & Noble 40 minutes away from their Dade City school.
About half raised their hands when asked if they had ever visited a bookstore before.
"The majority of our kids would probably not have this opportunity," said Brandon Maldonado, technology specialist at Cox and one of the organizers of the event. "Coming from low-income families, a simple trip from Dade City to Wesley Chapel is not something they could easily do."
Representatives from East Pasco Democrats, Barnes & Noble and Toys for Tots talked to the students about Barack Obama, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the importance of reading.
In the audience, Susana Luna, 10, learned that King "made a big change in the world."
Leslie Meillon, 11, realized Obama was the first black president and decided she would like to be the first female president.
Each student received a biography on the new commander in chief, courtesy of the East Pasco Democrats.
Marine Sgt. Daniel Conely called the children forward to receive their books and a handshake. He asked the teachers for help pronouncing some of the names on the list.
Before the election, Cox students said they wanted the new president to get tougher on parents who don't pay child support.
At the bookstore on Inauguration Day, the fifth-graders had more expectations for Obama.
"He's going to make it easier for people who don't have papers," Elizabeth Estrada, 11, said, referring to immigration paperwork.
Three times as many Cox families appealed to school officials for help during the 2008 holiday season compared with previous years.
Other schools donated canned foods and unclaimed goodies from their lost and found collections. Cox was also able to give students new books thanks to a grant the school secured.
"We don't really go to bookstores. I am the only person who likes to read in my family," said Boris Pineda, 11.
He said the next time he gets to go will probably be another field trip.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.