A visit to one New Mexico elementary school will find you strolling into Write Avenue and Letter Drive rather than individual grades.
Once there, you will find that ordinary school desks have become “rural address locations” serviced by mail carriers who are under age 12.
For this school year, the 96-student Elida Elementary School has been transformed into “Pencilvania, U.S.A.,"a “town” with its own ZIP code--88117.
The U.S. Postal Service chose the school--and even contributed an official mailbox, mailbag, and mail carrier’s cap--with the aim of teaching the students how a post office is run.
The students took a field trip to the local post office and watched a videotape to prepare them for the many duties involved, such as sorting and delivering mail.
About three days a week, students spend 15 or 20 minutes writing letters to friends, pen pals, and sometimes teachers, explains Nancy Ward, the school’s principal and 1st-grade teacher. The students also design their own stamps, she says.
The increased communication has been helpful on many levels, Ms. Ward says. “If a student needs help, we write to them, and that really ups the ego,” she notes.
Every six weeks, the responsibility for running the show is handed down one grade level. Students are given a test, and the high scorers are voted on by their classmates to determine the current postmaster, his or her assistant, and a mail carrier.
The school’s first postmaster, 12-year-old Tony Nandino, said the best part of the job by far was “seeing the kids when they got the mail, especially the younger kids.” “Their faces would light up and everything,” he said. --W. M.
A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 1992 edition of Education Week as A Trip to ‘Pencilvania’