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Bob Lind column: Neighbors: State of the union: Postcards help Fargo students master U.S. geography

The Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School in Fargo will be demolished some day to make room for a new middle school. But what will live on is the education the kids at Carl Ben, as it's popularly known, received over the years, including geography. ...

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The Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School in Fargo will be demolished some day to make room for a new middle school.

But what will live on is the education the kids at Carl Ben, as it's popularly known, received over the years, including geography.

The fourth grade at Carl Ben taught by Donna Dineen especially is plugging into the 50 states, with a big assist from the U.S. Postal Service and from Ole and Lena in Alamogordo, N.M.

Missing: Rhode Island

The goal of Donna's class is to get a postcard from each state.

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As of this writing, the kids had received cards from 48 states. That soon will be 49, because they've learned a man in North Carolina will be sending them a card. That apparently leaves Rhode Island as the only state without a postcard in the room's colorful display.

Donna is teaching the students the location of each state through this project.

When she launched it in September, she sent a note to each of her 21 students' families asking them to find at least one person who would send in a postcard, mailing them directly to the school and not to the student for security reasons.

Each time a student receives a postcard, he or she puts a sticker showing that state's location on a large map of the United States. Donna then provides facts about that state.

Sometimes the students have written to state tourism departments and have received brochures to augment their knowledge of the states. This also gives the kids practice in letter-writing.

The Branson connection

Because the class often receives more than one card from each state, the classroom now has a display of about 130 cards.

There are multiple stickers on some states, too.

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One boy's mother works with truck drivers, so she had them send him cards.

One day alone he received seven cards from Branson, Mo. The class thought it was hilarious as the boy put up sticker after sticker on Missouri. "He was literally rolling on the floor with laughter by the end," Donna says, explaining that "This is what is humorous to a fourth-grader."

Party time

When the guy from North Carolina comes through, and if someone in Rhode Island ponies up a card, the class will celebrate.

- Each student gets his or her own card(s) back.

- The students will write thank-you notes to their senders.

- Donna will encourage the students to start their own card collections.

- Then, the biggie: a party!

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In planning the party, Donna is introducing the kids to that mainstay of modern civilization, the committee. She has five of them, each charged with a responsibility: doing a survey to see how the students wanted to celebrate (a pizza party drew the biggest slice of the votes), handling the budget (funds come from the ever-so-nice-to-have-around PTA), being in charge of the food, making placemats and decorating and taking charge of games.

Her ninth year

Donna has been teaching at Carl Ben for 18 years, seven of them with the first grade and the last 11 with the fourth. She's been doing the postcard project for nine years.

"I started this project when my dad (Tom Dineen) traveled for work (from his and Donna's mother Jean's home in north Fargo, where Donna grew up)," she says. Tom worked for Chevrolet/General Motors for several years. He traveled to many states with his job, so Donna asked him to send postcards to her class. Tom and Jean now live in Burnsville, Minn. "Now I have a nephew who travels for work and he gets us started each year," Donna says.

"It's fun to see who responds. Some years a mother or grandmother gets interested and helps us find someone in each state. The Internet has helped; families can just e-mail someone they know and get our school's address out there."

Long bus ride

One who certainly knows the school's address is the brother of a volunteer at Carl Ben. He's a truck driver who sends in cards, but he signs them "Ole and Lena."

Alas, as is often the case, Ole and Lena don't always get it right. One time Ole wrote that "Lena found a good deal on her computer for a weekend getaway to Alamogordo, Minn. I said I never heard of it, but we could go.

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"I guess Lena didn't read very carefully because we are in Alamogordo, N.M., not Minnesota. I thought we were on the bus a long time. We will be lucky to be home by Thanksgiving."

Donna showed the card, with a picture of the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico on it, to the students.

"I'm not sure the fourth-graders got the humor, but I sure enjoyed it," Donna says.

Maybe Ole and Lena now will try to complete the classroom's postcard selection by sending one from Rhode Island. The only thing is, they'll probably be looking for the island in the Minnesota lakes country.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or e-mail rlind@forumcomm.com

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