Neither rain nor snow kept Elkridge Elementary second-graders from their appointed rounds, and the Columbia postmaster honored them last week for their efforts in the U.S. Postal Service's Wee Deliver program.
Elkridge Elementary is the only county school to have embraced Wee Deliver, said Postal Service officials, who introduced the national program in 1991 to promote literacy. The second-graders at Elkridge have stamped, sorted and delivered so well that Columbia Postmaster Alfred Fowler gave them an award for their performance.
With the help of their teachers, the second-graders have transformed the school into a postal zone. Makeshift addresses have been created for each student by using teachers' telephone extensions and names for street addresses. For instance, Carole Phipps' classroom is 170 Phipps Drive. The students' desks have become personal mailboxes.
After the children took tests and filled out job applications to be postal workers, instructional assistant Anita Feintuch set up a mock post office with official rubber stamps, sorting cubbyholes, mail bag, mailbox and stations for the workers.
The children donned badges made by Ms. Feintuch that listed their jobs: postmasters, clerks and letter carriers. They get to keep the badges when they finish their turn at the post office. "It's been a lot of extra work, but it's been fun, and the real reward is seeing the children's writing improve," Ms. Feintuch said.
Each week since Valentine's Day, the children have written letters to each other, and a rotating team of postal workers has sorted the mail and delivered it. They have learned to address envelopes and postcards, along with the proper format for letter-writing.
"We stamp the letters. It's fun, and it's real easy," said 8-year-old Marcos Rivera, a postal clerk. "Wewatched a movie about the post office, and everyone took a field trip except me, because I had the chicken pox."
Second-grader Mark Preis created a cancellation stamp for the school depicting an elk carrying a mail bag. The design was put on an official stamp presented to the school for use in the program.
Seventy of the 126 second-graders also submitted entries for a postal stamp design contest, and the winning designs were reduced in size and used on the children's letters. Ms. Feintuch would like to present the designs to the Postal Service next year as possibilities for legitimate postage stamps.
"What's great is that all the children have been involved," said Ms. Feintuch, who began the Elkridge program after seeing a story about it on the "Today" show. "Not everyone has gotten to run the post office, because we got started late in the year, but the special education children have been able to take part in the pen-pal correspondence and take jobs at the mock post office. Their teacher says their writing has really improved since we started."
Nancy Glenn, the educational coordinator for the Columbia area Postal Service, said Elkridge Elementary has taken the program further than any school she has worked with. "A lot of the teachers feel like it's going to be too much extra work," she said, praising the work of Ms. Feintuch.
Second-grade team leader Carol Cobb said the program has helped students reach beyond their classroom studies. "The children wrote to the M&M company to give input about the new color, and every child in the second grade has written to two states requesting information on tourism and state facts," she said.
"Their spelling, punctuation and sentence structure have improved just in the three or four months they've been doing this."
The second-grade teachers said they hope to expand the program overseas when fourth-grade teacher Stephanie Zarikow travels this fall to Germany on an educational exchange. They would like to set up a system for exchanging mail between the Elkridge students and Ms. Zarikow's German pupils.