Valley Forge students travel the world with postcard project

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It all started with a simple postcard.

At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Valley Forge Elementary School teacher Lisa Burdick received a postcard from a local church offering her encouragement for the upcoming school year.

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That postcard sparked an idea — if the class received one postcard, why couldn’t her second grade class get more postcards and use the project as a learning tool. Her students have now made friends around the world without ever leaving the classroom.

“I hoped to get something from the states surrounding Tennessee,” Burdick said.

From there, it grew into seeing how many states they could collect. Another teacher at Valley Forge Elementary, David Arwood, took to the internet through social networking sites to ask for mail for the classroom and the project became an internet sensation. The request for postcards circulated online and several news outlets picked up the story, including television stations locally as well as in other states.

And the postcards began pouring in. And, not just postcards, but letters, maps, books, and other gifts.

“I had big hopes, but I never dreamed it would extend this far,” Burdick said. “It exceeded beyond what either of us expected.”

As the end of the school year approaches, the students have now collected postcards from every state, every continent, every country in Europe, and nearly every country in the world. The students even received mail from McMurdo Station, the United States’ research center located in Antarctica.

“Students have written governors and they have written back,” Burdick said.

“We have a postcard from the U.S. Ambassador to Japan,” Arwood said, adding the Ambassador happens to be from Tennessee.

Students in a classroom in Lithuania each wrote postcards to Burdick’s students.

“For people to take the time to find a postcard, to write on it, and to mail it touched us,” Burdick said. “One of my students said it very well. They said ‘A lot of people cared about us.’”

The project provided a fun way for the students to learn about geography, but Burdick said it also served as a way of linking multiple the subjects together. The students used their reading and writing skills with the postcards and letters, geography to learn about where the states and countries are located, and math skills in figuring out the distances between locations.

Burdick began displaying the postcards and letters on a wall in her classroom, with colored strings linking each piece of mail to the point on the map where it came from. However, the project soon outgrew the classroom and moved to a pair of displays in the hallway outside her room. There, two large maps are surrounded by postcards and letters. On one side is a map of the United States with letters linking to their states. On the other side, a map of the world with the letters linked to their countries.

The students would be excited each day to see if they had received mail, and the project became something for the whole school to enjoy. Burdick said students could often be seen stopping to read the postcards or check out the maps as they walked by in the hallway.

Below are some of the comments the students in Burdick’s class offered on the project.

• Ally: “I learned about different places in the world. I wrote a letter to the Governor from Montana and he wrote me back. If I could go to any state, I would like to see Montana. The Governor sent me a letter from Vermont too. This was exciting and fun.”

• Brooklynn: “We got lots of postcards and it was awesome! I learned that collecting postcards is a good way to learn about places around the world. I want to visit Australia and see Kangaroos and Koalas. I learned that Koalas sleep about 22 hours a day.”

• Gage: “I liked getting postcards because we got them from every state and different countries too.”

• Jayden:  “My favorite country is the United States of America.  I am thankful for my good country. I would like to visit Florida and go to SeaWorld. My class got lots of postcards from Florida. I went on a trip and brought back 2 postcards for my class. That was fun.”

• Kaitlynn: “Getting postcards was fun and we learned so much about different places. I want to travel and see other places. I wrote the Governor of Maine. He wrote me a letter that told all about Maine.”

• Kason: “We got a lot of postcards from California. I want to see California and go to Hollywood.”

• Kaylee: “I want to visit Texas and Florida. I want to see France too. The hall looks pretty with the postcards.”

• Kendra: “I learned that I can go to new places and see the world. It was fun getting a reindeer from Finland and a Koala from Australia. It’s fun to get postcards.”

• Madison: “This was fun because I didn’t know about a lot of the states and countries and now I do. I sent Governor Haslam a postcard, and he wrote me back. If I could go on a trip, I would like to visit Hawaii.”

• Rex:  “The postcards are interesting to see and it helped me learn about geography. I wrote the Governor of Alaska and he wrote me a letter. I learned more about Alaska and I got a flag from Alaska.”

• Skye: “I liked getting postcards because it helps you see around the world. My favorite place is Surfside Beach, South Carolina.”

• Thomas: “I hope other people will visit Tennessee. It is very fun here at Valley Forge Elementary. I learned about the USA and about other countries. Oman is the only country that starts with an O. “