Vancouver teacher, family, visit the president

He reads students' 'I will' statements

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter



See the White House photos of the day at

See the White House photos of the day at

A Vancouver teacher and her family with West Wing connections met President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on April 4.

Bethany Rivard, a teacher at Fort Vancouver High School, traveled to Washington, D.C., with her husband, David Smith, and their daughters, Sage Smith, 6, and Elsa Smith, 5. They were invited to attend the president’s departure meeting with Jamie Smith, his former deputy press secretary. Jamie Smith, David Smith’s sister, had worked at the White House since June 2011.

As Rivard and her family stood around the president’s Resolute desk, her niece, Lincoln Rose Pierce Smith, 11 months, the daughter of Obama’s former deputy press secretary, took her first steps — as she walked toward the president. White House photographer Pete Souza snapped a picture. It was posted online as the White House photo of the day and was sent electronically to 20 million recipients. Rivard’s daughters are seen standing in front of Obama’s desk.

The family brought with them a letter from Sage’s classmates at Columbia Valley Elementary School that asked the president to consider making school breakfasts healthier. Sage and other students also drew pictures of themselves for the president.

“I gave him a letter. He wrote a letter back,” Sage said matter-of-factly. The first-grader said she was “excited” to meet the president and “was not scared.”

The students got an amazing lesson in persuasive writing, Rivard said. “He looked through the entire letter — and the pictures they drew — and said, ‘Michelle is going to love this!'”

Rivard, who has taught at Fort Vancouver for eight years, teaches the AVID class, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. Many of her students will be the first in their family to graduate from high school or college. Rivard gave the president a photo of her AVID students.

“My students wrote ‘I will’ statements next to their pictures, such as: ‘I will be the first person in my family to graduate,'” Rivard said. “The president wrote us both responses on the spot. It was quite something! For my students, making these statements of determination to the president of the United States was meaningful.”

Obama wrote this note on White House stationery: “Dream big dreams!”

After Obama wrote the response letters, he handed Rivard’s daughters a White House goody bag with an official White House Barack Obama Frisbee, yo-yos and some candy.

“He said, ‘Don’t tell Michelle,'” Rivard recalled. The first lady is an advocate of healthful eating.

The entire meeting in the Oval Office lasted 10 to 15 minutes, Rivard said, adding it was “just our family, the president and the Secret Service.”

Rivard and her family also had a private tour of the White House press room.

When her sister-in-law, Jamie Smith, worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, Rivera and her family met Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“What struck me about both the Clintons and Obama is they were so normal,” Rivard said. “The pomp and circumstance wasn’t present, but the enormity of the moment was.”

Rivard’s sister-in-law left her White House job to work in the private sector. She formerly worked for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

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