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Warner Speaks at Swanson

Governor answers students? questions on baseball, immigration, SOLs.

As Gov. Mark Warner fielded questions from Swanson Middle School students last week, they were interested in more than just the answers.

Students were pleased to see the way Warner (D) carried himself ? he couldn?t operate off a prepared script. ?I think he?s very responsible and thinks about everything he does and says,? said Hannah Bauman, a Swanson sixth grade student.

Warner spoke at Swanson, 5800 Washington Blvd., on Wednesday, April 30, as part of a program run by C-SPAN and Comcast Cable to bring government leaders to 40 area schools in 20 days. The program is now in full swing, and will bring FBI Director Robert Mueller to Washington-Lee High School for a similar forum on Friday, May 23.

Warner addressed Swanson students for about 15 minutes before opening the floor for an almost hour-long question and answer session.

Students didn?t pitch softballs, either. Faced with questions on college tuition, Standards of Learning tests, the state budget crisis and Richmond politics, Warner said the students kept him on his toes. ?I thought the Swanson students were very well informed,? he said. ?Some of [the questions] were very tough.?

ONE SWANSON SEVENTH grader, 13-year-old Andrew Gilbert, asked Warner his position on bringing a Major League Baseball team to Northern Virginia. ?It just came to my mind,? said Gilbert. He reads the newspaper everyday, he said, following the latest efforts to bring the Montreal Expos to Arlington.

Both Gilbert and Warner agreed that baseball would be good for the community as a whole, but ?in Rosslyn, nobody wants it in their back yard,? said Gilbert.

Jessica Chilin-Hernandez, who is also in the seventh grade, asked Warner about state immigration policies. Warner pointed to a General Assembly decision this year not to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants attending Virginia colleges and universities. ?Now I think that?s wrong,? said Warner. ?I mean I don?t think we should penalize a kid because their parents may have come here illegally.?

It?s a sensitive topic for Chilin-Hernandez, a native-born American but the daughter of legal immigrants. ?I?m not illegal, but still they?re my people,? she said. Warner?s answer impressed her. ?Now that I got to meet him and hear him, he?s a great guy, and I think he?s the perfect one to be governor of Virginia,? she said.

SPEAKING IN A school, the topic of education was bound to come up, and several students wanted to hear Warner?s thoughts on Standards of Learning tests.

?I know the SOLs are kind of a pain,? Warner said. But they serve a valuable role, making sure all schools across the state have the same curriculum and the same standards, he said.

Bauman followed up on that comment, asking if the governor saw any problems with the SOLs. ?I thought there were a number of problems with the SOL test,? Warner said, ?especially when it started.?

Bauman was satisfied with the response. ?[Teachers] have to realize that?s just the bare minimum,? she said. Swanson teachers do a good job of going beyond the minimum SOL requirements, Bauman said. ?I don?t think they?re too focused on the SOLs at all.?

WARNER RETURNED several times to his main message: that leadership depends on perseverance. Before he founded companies like Nextel, he said, his first business ventures failed, and his first venture into politics was a failed bid for to unseat U.S. Sen. John Warner (R).

?One of the things that you can learn about leadership is that if you want to do something you may not be successful the first time,? the governor said. But failure shouldn?t be discouraging. ?I?m living proof that if you try again and you really want it and you?re really willing to work hard, that you can often times accomplish something.?