Melania Trump, Jordan's queen tour girls-only charter school

WASHINGTON — Melania Trump on Wednesday highlighted her interest in empowering women and girls along with the administration's focus on school choice by touring a girls-only charter school with Queen Rania of Jordan and the U.S. education secretary.

The queen was in Washington with her husband, King Abdullah II, who met with President Donald Trump at the White House.

Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, are big proponents of giving parents with children in the public school system the option of sending them to charter, private or other schools. Critics say allowing choice would drain public schools of much-needed resources. Charter schools, like the one that received the first lady, the queen and the secretary, receive public funding but are independently operated.

"As an all-girls school, you all represent what we work so hard to build for our girls," Deborah Lockhart, the chief executive officer of Excel Academy Public Charter School, said as her visitors settled in for a discussion with the principal, three students, a parent, a science teacher and an art teacher.

The queen did most of the talking during the portion of the conversation that was open to the news media, questioning Lockhart about the curriculum. The queen is known for her work as an advocate for education and youth and community empowerment. Mrs. Trump said during the presidential campaign that as first lady she would focus on youth cyberbullying. She also has shown an interest in women's and children's issues.

After the round-table, Mrs. Trump, the queen and DeVos visited an art class followed by a science class where the gloved and goggled students had what seemed like a challenging assignment: to learn as much as possible about the diet of an owl by dissecting a pellet it had regurgitated.

"Wow," the first lady said after the teacher, Gregory Dwyre, answered one of her questions.

The first lady said later in a written statement that education helps "shine a light" on gender equality and empowerment of women. She said Excel Academy is an "exceptional example" of a school that's preparing young women to "succeed in a global community."

"Hearing directly from teachers and the students who attend the school was an important step in the dialogue needed to further my agenda as first lady of the United States," Mrs. Trump said.

The school visit was Mrs. Trump's first foray into a real neighborhood of the city that she says will become her adopted hometown. The school, which has nearly 700 students in grades pre-K through eighth, opened in August 2008 in an economically depressed area of the city, east of the Anacostia River.

Mrs. Trump so far has kept Washington at arm's length. She continues to live at the family's Trump Tower penthouse in midtown Manhattan with the couple's son, Barron, 11, but she has started visiting the White House with increasing frequency in recent weeks.

She made a couple of public appearances in town last week, including at the State Department and at a White House reception for U.S. senators.

On Thursday, she'll travel to Florida with the president for meetings Trump has scheduled at his Palm Beach estate with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The first lady often joins the president for weekend getaways at the estate.

Trump has said his wife and son will move to the White House after Barron's school year ends.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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