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When a South Dakota school administrator goes up, up, and away this month on a hot-air-balloon adventure across the country, thousands of children will join him, sort of.

Kevin Kuehn, an assistant superintendent in the Douglas school system, is scheduled to begin his eight-month trek on Sept. 18. As he travels with his balloon from state to state, he plans to keep in touch with students around the world through the Internet global computer network.

Mr. Kuehn, 36, plans to travel by trailer and make ascents in his balloon at several schools in each of the 50 states. As for Hawaii, he'll load the balloon on an airplane for the trip.

He hopes to communicate with teachers and students about such subjects as culture, current events, geography, and science.

During the past few months, Mr. Kuehn has used the Internet to interest teachers and schools in the project, asking for a $150 subscription fee to participate in the project. He said he has received responses from every state, and from many countries, including Canada, the Philippines, and Australia.

The idea for "Balloonin' USA" first came to Mr. Kuehn after he watched the eagerness with which students and teachers tracked the progress of the Iditarod dog-sled race in Alaska.

"I've been in school for a dozen years and ballooning for four years," he added. "The kids get so excited about the balloon."

After attending a technology conference, Mr. Kuehn realized that the use of computer technology with the hot-air balloon was a great combination. He said he also wanted to do something that would give teachers and school districts an extra push to use the technology available to them.

"This brings it to their back yard and gives teachers a vehicle to follow and get kids excited," Mr. Kuehn said.

He said last week he's anxious to get started. He has sold his house and taken a leave of absence until June. Though Mr. Kuehn will travel on his own, he'll have a volunteer crew to help set up his balloon.

Although the trip is scheduled to end in April, Mr. Kuehn said he hopes its educational benefits will continue long after his balloon is packed away. "This is geared for fun for the kids, but hopefully things will stick, not like in textbooks," he said.

Mr. Kuehn hopes there will be enough video footage for an interactive cd-rom. He also plans a cookbook of favorite recipes collected from students. If this trip really takes off educationally, Mr. Kuehn said, he'd love to go on another journey--across Europe.

--Adrienne D. Coles

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