When 5th grader Mark Schlotterback began the school year, he never knew just how well the mail could get around, especially if you send it by balloon.
Mark and about 50 other students and adults from various schools in St. Paul, Minn., participated in the St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church’s annual balloon lift last fall. Participants were given balloons with postcards attached that stated their names, locations, and a request to return the postcards if they happened to be found outside the state.
Mark’s balloon carried his postcard not just out of state, however. It went nearly 4,600 miles to the Czech Republic, where it was discovered by a university student.
Church officials, who began sponsoring the event several years ago as a way for schoolchildren to celebrate the beginning of each new school year, were astounded when the card was returned in November.
“We’ve had a few cards returned from Wisconsin,” said the Rev. Grant Stevenson, St. Matthew’s pastor. “But most just end up floating around the city.”
As amazing as it seems, local meteorologists told church officials that the balloon could have made the journey if high winds carried it into the path of the jet stream, which then pushed the balloon across the Atlantic and into Moravia, a Czech region.
Jan Kratky, the 21-year old Palacky University student who found the card while out for a walk, was amazed by balloon’s unlikely trek, too.
“He wrote a nice letter back to Mark that said if this was a contest, it must surely be over now” because Mark was the winner hands-down, the pastor said. Mr. Stevenson said that he has been surprised by the attention the incident has received.
The balloon’s odyssey has had another uplifting result: It’s created a connection. Not only has it raised 10-year-old Mark’s interest in the Czech Republic, but Mark’s family also has sent Mr. Kratky, who has never been to the United States, a care package full of postcards and other items describing life in Minnesota.
A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2002 edition of Education Week