SCHOOL DAYS - Before there was social media, there were letters and postcards. Since handwriting notes and having to wait more then seconds for a response is a part of history, students at Wallenpaupack North Intermediate School were introduced to a form of communication that was new to many of them.

The Postcard Exchange 2018 was a project-based learning lesson that connected the fifth graders with students from across the country, as they sent each other postcards and received some back.

Teacher Tanya Cunningham said this lesson was different, because the students learned as they researched about the areas they were sending their cards to, rather than just writing a report. In total, the students sent and received postcards from 56 other places, including out of the country. The project covered a variety of subjects; from history where they learned about the area the recipients were located, to art they made for their own handmade postcards.

Then there was the traditional lesson of how to do a greeting, address an envelope and where to place a stamp. The lesson, simply Cunningham said was “great” because aside from being creative, it was real life and important, since some students didn’t even know what a zip code was. After researching their home state, the students shared information about Pennsylvania with their new distant friends. Once they received information from other schools, the Wallenpaupack students had Skype calls with those students, where they talked about how their communities compared.

At the end of the project, the students were introduced to Postmaster Elizabeth Struble from the White Mills Post Office and Postmaster Ilene Diehl from the Beach Lake Post Office who shared history of the United States Postal Service and more.

Diehl said she was “thrilled” that there was such a lesson, because there are adults who question how to address an envelope. Aside from showing the students how to write a letter and send it, the lesson was a part of the curriculum as they focused on capitalization, punctuation and more.

This type of lesson, Cunningham called “authentic learning” because the students had to figure out how to get their postcards to the other students.

The possibility of the post office one day closing, that Struble said she doesn’t see happening because people need to send cards to their grandchildren or a money order to family in college. But, the “volumes may drop” even though written communication will happen in some form.

Such lessons as the Postcard Exchange 2018, Diehl said are important because how to communicate is something many children are missing today, she feels since they are more familiar with texting. Cunningham added that some students often use “text talk” by typing “u” instead of “you.”

A student started the meeting by asking the postmasters why a return address isn’t put on the postcards. Struble answered that there usually isn’t enough room for them on the postcard and if the postcards aren’t deliverable, then they are sent to the “dead mail center” in Atlanta.

Struble quizzed the students on who the first postmaster general was, which one child answered correctly as being Benjamin Franklin.

Stamps alone had a part in the lesson, as Struble shared her own collection with the students, but went on to discuss the variety that exists from Medal of Honor stamps for the Vietnam War and more.

Diehl told the students that many stamps and collector stamps have history on the back of them. Then there is the eclipse stamp, which Struble said is the first heat sensitive stamp issued. One of the newer stamps is that in honor of first responders and the going rate for stamps is 50¢ now.

The stamps, Struble told the students do acknowledge social issues too, with one regarding the Amber Alert for missing and abducted children or there is another for breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and wildlife. From those specific stamps, the public pays 65¢ and then 15¢ of that stamp goes to the organization that is conducting research or conservation efforts.

For a hands-on portion of the lesson, the students took turns canceling stamps. The reason, Diehl explained so that the stamps cannot be reused.

From this lesson, fifth grader Rosanna MacBride said she learned that mailing a letter is a “big process” since one card is all that’s needed.

Whereas Evie Neenan said she learned new facts about Pennsylvania and how the first computer was invented. Both students had sent a letter before, but this was the first time Neenan ever sent a postcard.

Kenny Campbell  said he enjoyed coloring and teaching the other students about Pennsylvania, while also learning from them.

For her artwork, MacBride drew the 911 Memorial with a whistling tower because she feels people should know it is important to Pennsylvania, she said. Whereas Neenan drew images related to Crayola crayons. MacBride drew things that reflected his favorite football team. Of the project, Neenan said she liked how multiple subjects were incorporated into the lesson. 

Margot Clauss, a fifth grade teacher called the project a “great collaboration” among the teachers, since they have their focused subjects, but they came together for the Postcard Exchange 2018.

The two-week project was a success according to Clauss, because the students were excited from the start as they saw their work evolve and their finished postcards were sent.