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Bears travel back to St. Peter

By Rebecca Burk Ellis / L’Observateur / June 1, 1998

RESERVE – Third-graders in Cindy Monica’s class at St. Peter Schoolanticipated the arrival of the postman every day during the school year.

They were waiting for postcards from people all over the world who came in contact with a tiny brown teddy bear attached to green bag with a laminated picture of the third-grade class.

Twenty bears were sent – one for each student in the class – and inside each bear’s bag was a small notebook in which the student who owned the bear wrote something about themselves from the bear’s point of view.

They sent the bears by hand delivery, not using the U.S. Postal System.Each student gave their bear to someone who was going somewhere, whether in the state, country or elsewhere. And that person would writein the book, put something in the bag about where they live and send a postcard to the “bear” at the school’s address in care of the whole class.

Then they would pass it on to someone else, who in turn would do the same thing.

“Five or six times a day they asked me if I checked the mail yet,” Monica said.

Postcards poured in all year and Monica read them out loud to the class then tacked them up to a huge bulletin board headlining the sign “Travelmate Sightings.” The postcards bordered a map of the world in which tacks were placed wherever a “sighting” had been made. The map was dotted with pinsdenoting that one of the bears had been to places all over the United States, Europe and other countries and islands.

“People are very proud to write back and tell them about their area,” Monica said.

She added that some of the writings came back in Japanese or Chinese and the students nor herself could read them. But they got a translator toreveal the message to them.

In addition to postcards, some students who already got their bears back had packs filled to the brim with items characteristic of other home countries and locations in the U.S.Some of the items they received were cinnamon sticks from Grenada, coffee from Puerto Rico, coins from Australia and the Czech Republic, a flag from North Dakota, a plastic snowflake from Minnesota, a turtle figurine from the Grand Cayman Islands and a driving tour tape from Vicksburg, Miss.

Monica said the only continents no bear went to were Africa and Antarctica. “And usually we have some that end up there,” she said,laughing.

Monica said this is the fourth year her class has done the experiment, and it is the best response she has ever seen. “We’ve gotten more than half ofthe bears back,” she said.

As of Thursday, the students’ last day of school, 12 of the 20 traveling bears had made their way back to the school. The deadline in the notebooksaid to have them back by May, and Monica is expecting more to come in.

“We have gotten word that more are on their way,” she said.

Third-grader Steven Duhe’s travel bear came back with nothing in his pouch. Instead he came with a briefcase full of things from foreigncountries and places in the United States.

Duhe’ gave his travel bear to a pilot who took it with him on all of his journeys throughout the school year, getting people to add to the pouch, write in the book and mail the class a postcard.

When the pouch got too stuffed with items, Duhe’ said they were transferred to a briefcase. He enjoyed the experiment and especiallypilfering through the briefcase of treasures.

“It feels good to get all of that stuff back from all over,” Duhe’ said. “Itwas fun, but when it’s over it’s over.”Monica said the students not only got a geography lesson, but a lesson on life, as well. “They are getting a broader perspective of the world, and it’snot just Reserve, Louisiana, anymore,” she said. “A lot of them don’t everleave this area, and they are realizing that there are people living overseas in other countries. They are so tuned in to this area that it helpsthem to realize that the world is a big place and there are a lot of people all over.”

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