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FOR KIDS : Sign, Seal and Deliver : Children play a new kind of post office by exchanging notes at schools.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; John Morell writes regularly for The Times

Kids in the San Fernando Valley are playing post office during recess.

In a classroom at Cohasset Street Elementary School in Van Nuys last month, about 14 student postal workers studied letters and postcards to make sure they were addressed correctly, canceled stamps, sorted mail into boxes and put aside illegible or unstamped mail, destined to be returned to sender. Just another Friday at the headquarters of the school’s Honeybee Postal Service.

“The kids are very serious about the work they do,” said Peter Hass, communications specialist for the U.S. Postal Service. “This is how the mail was organized in Ben Franklin’s time.”

The Honeybee Postal Service, which is named for Cohasset’s mascot, is part of Wee Deliver, a 2-year-old program started by the Postal Service in Florida, in which elementary school students are shown how to create an in-school mail delivery service that allows them to write letters and have them delivered to friends throughout the school. About 11,000 schools nationwide have a Wee Deliver program, and the Postal Service has signed up 70 Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools to participate, including nine in the San Fernando Valley. Wee Deliver is designed for students in all grades.

“The best part of the program is that it obviously encourages children to write and improve their language and math skills,” said Usafi Diamond, 44, the school’s coordinator for Wee Deliver. “They also learn about organization and decision-making.”

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Cohasset’s program was organized in May for students in the fourth and fifth grades. The Postal Service gave the children a presentation about the program, then invited them to “apply” for the various jobs needed to run the postal service, such as mail deliverer, sorter and postmaster.

“They had to fill out applications and take a test to check their skills, just like a real job,” said Diamond, who decided who would do what. “I looked for teacher recommendations, attendance records, evidence of good citizenship and an ability to think on their feet.”

“It wasn’t an easy test,” said Sergio Zamora, 9, a fourth-grader who serves as one of Honeybee’s postmasters. “You had to know how to address a letter and where to put the ZIP code.”

After students write letters, they use one of the free Wee Deliver stamps designed by students at the school and deposit it in the mailbox near the office. The mail is brought to a classroom set aside as postal headquarters and on Fridays, the workers spend about an hour on duty while their friends play during morning and lunch recess. Several wear the blue or white short-sleeve shirts with the Postal Service emblem and Wee Deliver scrolled underneath.

“We’ve been able to get several of the shirts from postal employees who are retiring,” said Tammy Morse, the local coordinator of Wee Deliver for the Postal Service. “I think it helps them feel more official.”

“My friends didn’t think much about it when I got the job,” said Omar Rivera, 9, a fourth-grader who is the school’s co-postmaster. “Now that they see what we do, they are jealous.” Omar and Sergio supervise the mail room and make sure the letters and cards get where they are intended to go for the twice-monthly delivery to the school’s 360 students.

“You have to make sure the person who delivers the mail can read the address,” Sergio said. “Sometimes we have to send letters back because they can’t be read.”

“It’s not an easy job,” Omar said. “But the more I do it, the more I like it.”

The mail is sorted into boxes for each “ZIP code,” “city” and “street.” At Cohasset, the 13 classrooms are divided into three cities, each with a ZIP code and bee-related name--Honey Sipper City, Honeycomb and Beeverly Hills. Each street, such as Flyaway Drive and Stinger Circle, represents an actual class. Desks for each student are then numbered to complete the street address.

The postal workers were sworn in by a member of the Postal Service who made them pledge that they would maintain the mail system, and the rest of the student body also took an oath that their correspondence would be “friendly and nice.” The school’s first delivery consisted of 289 letters, and more may be coming. “In September we want to gear up for weekly mail delivery,” Diamond said. “This will mean more work, but we can do it.”

Wee Deliver has been used to teach much more than writing and organizing. At Tarzana Elementary School, where the program has been running since March, postal workers earn “salaries” that range from $120 to $250 a week and have mythical checking accounts from which to pay bills such as “rent” for their desks.

The Tarzana students also learn about geography, since the address groups are named after California missions and states of the Union. “The great part about the program is its flexibility,” Warwick said. “It can be done simply for younger children or elements can be added to it to correspond with the curriculum.”


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