Open Letter: Great Mail Race

Two weeks ago I found an envelope in my school mail box from a 3rd grade class in Massachusetts. Inside was a letter from a student in that class, a questionnaire with information about Massachusetts in general and the class in particular, a blank questionnaire, and an invitation to participate in something called The Great Mail Race. The idea behind the race is for third grade students to learn about the 50 states by communicating with their peers around the country. After turning the idea over in my mind for a few days, I asked my students if they wanted to participate. They voted yes. The envelopes aren’t supposed to contain anything from the teachers aside from the instruction letters, but this is what I want to say to each classroom we communicate with.

Dear New Friends,

Greetings from Nunap, AK! Did you know that there are places in the USA with no roads? Well, our little village is one of them. The only ways in or out are by plane, boat, or snowmobile. Within the village, we walk on boardwalks. Some people drive four-wheelers, and many people use bicycles. We are surrounded by lakes, ponds, and rivers. In fact, one river cuts right through our village. In the warmer months, many students need to ride a boat to come to school. In the winter, they just walk on the ice.

I’m sorry if these letters are a little hard to read. All of the students in our class are English-language learners. At home, many of them speak Yup’ik, the language of their tribe. If you got a photocopied letter, please don’t be offended. I wish you could have seen how hard they worked to write just one letter by hand. In a larger class, each student would only need to write one or two letters. When there are only ten students in the entire third grade, however, everyone has to do a lot more work.

Actually, we only had 6 students this week, because the river is freezing up. This doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it can take many days. In the beginning, boats can still break through the ice, but it reaches a point where it’s too thick for that but not yet safe to walk on. When this happens, many students stay home from school. In fact, we sometimes have river days instead of snow days, because it’s not safe for anyone to cross.

But even with these differences, our class are third graders, just like you. They love to play outside. Most days, I can see several of them riding their bikes along the boardwalk. They enjoy playing basketball at recess. One of their favorite parts of the school day is when we take time to read, either by ourselves or with partners. When I suggested this project to them, I warned them that it would be a lot of work. They still said yes, because they love the idea of learning about other kids their own age.

Thanks for taking the time to be a part of this project. We hope to hear from you soon.

Your Friend,

Mr. CJ


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