WASHINGTON (AFP) — The daughters of president-elect Barack Obama began their new lives in Washington in earnest Monday, turning up on time for their first day at their new school.
At 8:00 am exactly, the four-wheel drive car of Michelle Obama, preceded by a police convoy, drew up at the primary school campus of the exclusive Sidwell Friends School, in the suburb of Bethesda in nearby Maryland.
A handful of waiting journalists jostled for pictures as Sasha Obama, seven, hopped out of a back door, her hair in plaits and clutching a pink backpack.
Clasping her mother's hand she walked into the school, looking very much like any other child returning from the Christmas holidays apart from the posse of secret service guards accompanying them.
Her elder sister, Malia, 10, had been dropped off just minutes earlier at the Sidwell Friends secondary school just a few miles away in Washington, DC.
It was a discreet start to the girls' day, after a crowd of well-wishers had gathered Sunday at the luxury Hay-Adams hotel in Washington to greet their father when he arrived to join them in the US capital.
After a 10-day break in Hawaii over Christmas, the Obama family briefly returned to their south Chicago home before moving to Washington ahead of the January 20 inauguration. Michelle Obama and her daughters travelled ahead, arriving at the hotel on Saturday.
It is the start of life in the full glare of the media as the country's First Kids for the girls, who will be the youngest children to live in the White House since the Kennedys in the early 1960s.
Amid the insatiable appetite for news about the family, Obama's transition team Monday released three pictures of the family preparing for the girl's first day at their new school as they kissed mom and dad goodbye in their hotel room.
The prestigious school run by Quakers costs about 29,000 dollars a year and has gained a strong reputation over the years, welcoming the children of some of the nation's most famous leaders.
Chelsea Clinton was a pupil there when her father, Bill Clinton, was president, as was the son of then vice-president Al Gore.
"It'll be fine. It'll work out," said one parent, who had accompanied her child on foot to the school, referring to the presence of the Obama girls.
Three little boys nodded wisely when asked if they knew who the new girls were. But most parents and nannies refused to answer questions as they dropped off children for the start of the new term.
Initially the Obamas had considered putting their daughters into a state school, but eventually opted for Sidwell Friends mainly out of security concerns. The last child of a president to be publicly schooled was Amy Carter, daughter of Jimmy Carter, in 1976.
The Obamas are currently staying at the Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, which overlooks the White House, until January 15 when they will then be able to move into Blair House, the residence usually used by top visiting dignitaries.
At midday on January 20, Barack Obama will be formally sworn in as the nation's 44th president and its first African-American leader, succeeding President George W. Bush. On the same day he and his family will take up residence in the White House.
Michelle Obama has consistently stressed that she sees her main role in the White House as "mom-in-chief" taking care of her daughters, amid the incredible pressures of living in the public glare of the White House.
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