OJAI : 2nd-Graders Mail Their Race Entries

A group of Ojai second-graders has enlisted the U.S. Postal Service in a combined geography and creative-writing lesson called the Great American Mail Race.

Teacher Pat Essick of Topa Topa Elementary School in Ojai said her class heard of the project in letters it received from schools in Iowa, New Jersey and Maryland.

The idea is to send letters addressed to "Any Second Grade, Any Elementary School," followed by actual city names, states and ZIP codes.

To start their lesson, each of Essick's 31 pupils chose two small cities to target with their own personal letters. 'We didn't want their letters getting lost in some big-city post office," Essick said.

"We also wrote a class letter that described Ojai and what makes Ojai so special, with a questionnaire asking them to describe their town," she said.

Next came a trip to the post office to mail the letters, a field trip that "teaches a lot of things at once," she said.

The children learned to read the big United States map tacked to the back of their classroom door, to use atlases to find communities too small for the map and to thumb through thick directories to find ZIP codes.

"Everybody's letter was different," the teacher said. "The object was to write an interesting letter that other students would want to respond to. So it teaches creative writing as well."

Ushered into the back reaches of the Ojai post office by postal clerk Geri King, the children learned how mail is sorted and what those mysterious locked boxes look like from the inside out.

Will their letters actually find their way to "Any Elementary School"?

"They should," said Bob Pilling, Ojai superintendent of postal operations.

With the school term coming to a close June 15, Essick's pupils are hoping for prompt responses to their far-flung correspondence. A classroom wins the Great American Mail Race when a letter is received from each of the 50 states.

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