By TARA HETTINGER
NEW ALBANY — Indiana’s first lady Cheri Daniels walked into Phyllis Vernia’s first-grade classroom at Green Valley Elementary School as the principal asked the group of children if they knew who their special guest was.
“The governor’s wife!” most of them chimed out in unison.
Daniels — who went to Green Valley for third through sixth grade — returned to her hometown to read a children’s book she co-authored to the students. She also stressed the importance of reading.
To prepare for her visit, Vernia had her class study the difference between New Albany and the rest of Indiana, as well as learn some facts about the first lady.
“We were counting down the days on the calendar,” Vernia said. “They were really excited to have her visit.”
So, when she came, all 18 students sat on the floor while Daniels took the seat in front, reading from “Shadow Tail Meets the Gang.”
She then read a book the students created together, with each page written by one child. Some of the kids even had questions for the first lady.
One asked what it was like to have a police officer follow her everywhere she went for protection.
“It’s very different to have someone go with you every time you go some place,” Daniels answered. “It’s very nice, but it’s something you’ve got to get used to.”
Other questions were about her hobbies, such as working out and playing tennis.
Students said they enjoyed meeting Daniels.
“It was kind of fun because I got to learn a little about her,” Emma Williamson, 7, said. “I learned that she likes to exercise a lot, and she likes to play tennis — that was my favorite part.”
“I think that it was cool because it’s the governor’s wife,” 7-year-old Bayleigh Cochran said.
“I liked it because it’s cool when people come and read to us,” said Danielle Grant, 7.
Daniels said it was neat coming back to the school where she honed her reading skills to tell others about how important reading is.
“This is a very important time in their education and reading is key to their future and they are our future,” she said.
Vernia said Daniels’ visit teaches the kids even more than that.
“It’s good for the kids to see her as a person and not as a person on TV,” she said. “... and the fact that she’s a former student here shows that everyone has possibilities.”
SO YOU KNOW
• Cheri Herman Daniels, a lifelong Hoosier, was born and raised in New Albany. She is the granddaughter of Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Herman. She attended Indiana University, where she studied journalism.
SHE COOKS, TOO
• Not only is Daniels a writer, but she also has cooking recipes on her Web site, www.in.gov/gov/firstlady/
• To contact the first lady, call 317-931-3076 or mail 4750 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN, 46208.