It all began with a birthday invitation in February to a second-grade pen pal class in Minnesota. Abby Schultheis, a pupil at Church Creek Elementary School in Belcamp, thought it would be fun if her class could meet their pen pals.
"It was pretty much all my idea," said Abby, who turned 8 on May 24. However, she didn't realize the amount of hard work it would take to make her birthday wish a reality.
With an outpouring of community support and fund raising, the Cass Lake-Bena Elementary School pupils, residents of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and members of the Ojibwa tribe, made her wish come true.
On Tuesday, 10 excited Minnesota pupils and eight exhausted chaperones joined Debbie Robinson's Church Creek second-grade class in a celebration.
"It is a celebration for all of us," Robinson said to the pupils as they whispered to each other and squirmed in their seats, "because of how special it is for us to meet our pals."
After a 29-hour bus ride - on top of two months of car washes, raffles, candy sales and spaghetti suppers - the children made it to Maryland to meet their pen pals.
The trip cost nearly $11,000, said Cass Lake-Bena teacher Roxanne Wimme.
"I had to justify how $11,000 could be productive in education," said Winne, who has been teaching at Cass Lake-Bena for two years.
Glimpse of world
Wimme said she was dedicated to making the trip possible because she wanted to show her pupils a glimpse of life beyond their small town.
Cass Lake, Minn., has a population of fewer than 1,000 people, and 82 percent of the pupils at Cass Lake-Bena Elementary are of Native American descent, Wimme said.
Jasmine Morris, 7, wore moccasins that her aunt had just finished making the night before they left as she performed a jingle dance with four female classmates. Two boys joined the girls to demonstrate to the Church Creek pupils a traditional way to celebrate that members of the Ojibwa tribe are introduced to as soon as they learn to walk - or earlier.
"They'll start in their walkers because they feel the beat of the drum," said Dawn DeMarr, one of the parent chaperones.
A primary source far more valuable than a textbook, Kristie Northbird, 8, told her Church Creek peers in a question-and-answer session after the performance that she wears her costume to dance in powwows.
One of the goals of having the pen pals meet was to have the children realize that in spite of their different backgrounds, they have a lot in common, Robinson said.
"They're going to see more similarities than differences between their communities," Robinson said.
"We both are nice," Kristie said, comparing herself with her pen pal. "But we don't like to do the same things. She likes to play Chutes and Ladders, and I like to play powwow."
Representing the Church Creek pupils, Abby also could identify some similarities and differences after a few moments of deep thought.
"Well, there's 16 of them and 18 of us," Abby said. "That's pretty different. But the girls almost all have long hair; we're pretty almost the same. The boys all have short hair, now that's all common."
About crab cakes
The Church Creek pupils introduced the Cass Lake-Bena pupils to Maryland tradition by serving them crab cakes and joining them in a story time that featured a book about the marine life in the Chesapeake Bay.
The crab cakes did not enjoy the popularity among the Minnesota second-graders that they have with Marylanders.
"They were gross," said Angel Rosillo, 8. Kristie agreed with her classmate.
Many of the Cass Lake-Bena pupils and their chaperones spent the night at their pen pals' homes after their daylong visit.
A Minnesota chapter of the Lions' Club sponsored a fund-raiser breakfast for the trip and the winner of a 50-50 raffle, a professor at a local college, donated her half of the money to the children, Wimme said.
Last month, Wimme's class received a $6,195 check that covered the cost of the bus and the two drivers needed for the nonstop trip.
"We had awesome community support," Wimme said.
Lessons on way
Wimme prepared a bus ride lesson plan for her pupils that will count toward summer school, which began Tuesday in Minnesota. Regular class was held on the bus, with lessons that included social studies, math and reading.
Despite the activities, both Kristie and Angel agreed that the bus ride was boring. Unfortunately for the children, the ride was eight hours longer than intended because the travelers hit bad weather.
Robinson has been teaching for 20 years, and this is her fourth year at Church Creek. Although she has been doing pen pals with her pupils for 10 years from schools as far away as Germany, Robinson said, this is the first time her pupils have gotten the opportunity to get to know the children they had corresponded with all year.
After a day of structured activities, the pupils got to play together at recess.
"One of my pen pals had lighter hair than was in her picture," said Jasmine as she dressed for the jingle dance. "But otherwise she was what I thought."