WASHINGTON – President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush joined Education Secretary Rod Paige and millions of school children from across the country Friday in what was being billed as the large synchronized recital of the Pledge of Allegiance in U.S. history.
With the bombing in Afghanistan paused for the Muslim holy day and the United States on high alert for terrorist attacks, the students took time from their studies at 2 p.m. eastern time Friday to simultaneously recite the pledge.
For some students, it was a chance to learn what the pledge means. Fourth-graders at Guiteras Elementary School in Bristol, R.I., spent the morning before the pledge discussing the meaning of "allegiance" and "indivisible."
"I think it's for freedom. It means I promise to be a loyal American," said Christian Babic, a fourth-grader who moved to the United States from his native Germany 18 months ago.
President Bush and the first lady joined the children from the White House, where they were at a reception in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
The voluntary effort, encouraged by Paige in an open letter to the nation's 107,000 primary and secondary schools earlier this week, was initiated by Paula Burton, a retired California teacher who has been holding an annual "Pledge Across America" for the past decade.
Her previous efforts have met with only limited success, but this year she said her phone had been ringing off the hook with educators wanting to participate.
"The response has been overwhelming," said Burton, who runs the nonprofit group Celebration U.S.A. from her home in Villa Park, Calif.
Paige participated in the program with students from an elementary school in Washington, along with million of other students nationwide — from Grace Downing Elementary School in Runnemede, N.J., to Walter Payton College Prep High School in Chicago and Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Oceanside, Calif.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.