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Kyle students receive more than 800 cards, letters from across the nation

The scope of the project was immense and the hopes were high, but admittedly, the expectations were modest.

“Prior to this project starting, I was expecting us to get around 25 states,” Kyle Elementary School second-grade teacher Keshia Nelson said. “I was extremely concerned about getting all the tiny states on the east coast, some of the states out west, Alaska and Hawaii.”

Last month, students in the three second-grade classes at Kyle – under the direction of teachers Nelson, Megan Rutledge and Amanda Schilling – set out to see if they could get Valentine’s Day cards, letters or postcards from each one of the 50 states. 

The “Hearts Around America” project was an ambitious project, and like Nelson, Schilling tried to keep her hopes realistic. 

“If we received about half of the states, I was willing to call the project a success,” she said. 

Rutledge was slightly more optimistic than her counterparts, but not by much. 

“If we received about half of the states, I was willing to call the project a success,” she said. 

At the beginning of the month, cards and letters came trickling in, mostly from students’ family members living in other states who had heard about the project. Once word began to spread on social media, however, the response was almost overwhelming. 

Before Valentine’s Day, the students already had received at least one card or letter from all 50 states. By the time it ended, they had received more than 800 pieces of correspondence, including 52 each from Texas and Florida. The students would watch each day as Rutledge colored in a map when they received a letter from each state.

When they received multiple cards or letters from each state, Rutledge would color a little heart in each state for each additional piece of mail. Eventually, some of the states began filling up with hearts.

“I had the expectations of getting about 50 cards, if that,” Rutledge said. “I simply just wanted to be able to fill in the map with the colors, I was not anticipating adding many hearts.”

 One day alone, the students received 221 cards or letters. 

“We were shocked,” Rutledge said. “Especially the day that we received 221 cards. That day was crazy between trying to open the cards, organize them and read all of them while keeping their attention throughout the process. I would say that day was one that the students really enjoyed too just knowing that we had 221 cards to read.”

Each day, U.S. Postal Service carrier Dakota Delvin would have to bring in a tote filled with items from across the nation … and around the world. Even though students never specifically asked for cards or letters from outside the United States, they received them anyway from people who were caught up in the project. In addition to cards and letters from every state, Kyle also received letters from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, England, Australia, Scotland, Japan, Finland, Puerto Rico and Sweden. 

Quite simply, the response overwhelmed all involved, not just their friendly postal carrier. 

“I never would have imagined that we would receive the number of cards that we did,” Schilling said. “I am still in disbelief that Mr. Delver had to bring a tote in to carry all the cards. Our students were amazed that so many people were willing to help with our project.”

Nelson agreed. 

“Utter disbelief is the word I would use to describe my reaction,” she said. “I assumed we would get a few cards and then this project just kept growing and growing. The day we received 221 cards/packages I wanted to start crying. I just kept counting and counting the cards.”

Schilling said social media was the driving force behind the overwhelming response to the project. 

Not only did they receive cards and letters from across the country and around the world, but they also received a number of generous and touching gifts to share with their students.

“The amount of gifts we received is incredible,” Schilling said. “We received chocolates from two different families in Hawaii. A family member of Ms. Barkett, a longtime Troy teacher and current substitute, knitted us a pink llama. Many people sent candies, stickers, pencils and state magnets. We received a variety of books from different parts of the country and a few calendars as well. A commissioner in North Dakota sent us a book bag filled with goodies- a baseball cap, coloring books, souvenir license plate, sheriff stickers, lanyards, a baseball, and state coins. We were in complete awe as we opened our boxes and envelopes.”

Not only was the project fun for students, it provided a number of learning opportunities. In addition to the obvious geography lessons, students also had the opportunity to practice reading through the hundreds of cards and letters. They even got a chance to practice their math skills by figuring out what percentage of states had they received letters from along the way. 

“As a team, we joke that this group of students will be experts when it comes to memorizing the states and their abbreviations,” Schilling said. “This was an opportunity for students to learn about states and parts of the USA that they may never get to visit. We read cards that talked about different animals and landforms that we do not have in Ohio. People wrote us facts or tidbits about their state. We learned about why people love their state and rightfully so! I hope that as a team we ignited a desire for students to visit different parts of our country. I know that I now have new places on my bucket list.”

Nelson agreed. 

“Cross-curricular- project-based learning is how I would define this project,” she said.  

With this project now closed for the year, the teachers are looking at ways to do a similar one with next year’s students. 

“We have discussed a couple different options for what to do next year,” Rutledge said. “We have suggested doing outside of the USA or the different counties in Ohio. We do not want to do the same project  as what we did this year, but still want to do something similar.”

Schilling said they could do a “Hearts Around America” project again in the future, but now right away. 

“I would love to repeat this project again in the future, definitely not next year,” she said. “We have talked about a few ideas for next year.”

As the project is wrapped up, the teachers said they would like to thank everyone who was involved, especially those who sent cards and letters.

“I would simply just say thank you!” Rutledge said. “I would also express to them how wonderful the project was and how important their card was to us. I would also want each person to know that the project would not have been as successful as it was without each of them taking the time to send a card, big or small, to us.”

Schilling said the project wouldn’t have been possible without all of the help they received. 

“The power of social media is amazing,” she said. “I know that without the use of social media, we would not have been as successful. To any one who sent us a card, thank you. You made this an experience that our students will never forget.”