News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 15, 2013

First Lady impresses in visit to Terre Haute elementary

Karen Pence visits several classrooms

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A former art teacher, Indiana First Lady Karen Pence harkened back to her own classroom days when she visited art students Tuesday morning at Benjamin Franklin Elementary in Terre Haute.

“If truth be told, I do this so I can get back into the classroom,” Pence told media representatives after taking a tour of the school.

The students of Jana Weeks were making clay flowers, following instructions on how to wedge the clay, flatten it, draw using a tool, and then adding detail.

“They have a kiln. I never had a kiln when I taught art,” Pence recalled. “It was kind of nice to see those children making flowers out of clay.”

Led by principal Tina Horrall and accompanied by Superintendent Danny Tanoos and several school board members, Pence journeyed through the school for about 20 minutes -- briefly entering classrooms where teachers read to preschoolers, where a fourth-grade teacher prompted her students to use descriptive words to analyze a story, and checking out the artwork hanging in every corridor.

“It’s good to see art all over the walls,” Pence said. “It shows that all the children are highlighted. It’s not just the work of one or two students.”

A watercolor artist herself, Pence complimented Principal Horrall on the positive atmosphere of the elementary. The school does have its challenges. About 96 percent of the students qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program, and the student population has had a 106 percent turnover this school year, meaning that many of the student families transition to other residences on a regular basis, causing a student to withdraw and re-enroll at the school multiple times during the school year.

“We just always greet them with a big smile when they return and let them know we are happy to have them back,” Horrall said.

The attention given to the school district was much appreciated by Superintendent Tanoos, who said that Pence is the only First Lady to have visited a Terre Haute school in about a decade.

“I think she was truly impressed with our school,” Tanoos said. “I think Benjamin Franklin Elementary is representative of all our schools.”

It would be easy, he said, to direct a visiting dignitary to a designated Four Star School for a tour. But he picked Franklin partly because of Mrs. Pence’s interest in strong art programs, and partly because it is a school that succeeds in serving low-income youth and their families.

Tanoos said he is hopeful about educational improvements statewide now that Gov. Mike Pence is putting more funding back into public education.

“And, he has a listening ear,” Tanoos said of the governor.

The visit also made an impression upon Vigo County school board member Jackie Lower.

“She’s very approachable,” Lower said of Mrs. Pence, “and a very classy lady.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @Trib