Valentines Across the USA
When second-grade teachers Brenda Sobodosh of Munson Elementary and Donna Picone of Park Elementary learned of a unique Valentine project opportunity that would broaden their students’ experience in the areas of social studies, reading, and writing, and a sense of connection with students across the United States, they knew they were all in and were excited to get started.
Spearheaded by a Facebook educators page that has over 125,000 followers across the miles, Sobodosh and Picone each teamed up virtually in January with more than 20 educators throughout the United States to provide students the opportunity to write and send letters and artwork to each others’ classrooms. Grade levels of the participating classrooms ranged from kindergarten to grade six.
Each of the two participating Chardon second-grade classes wrote their own classroom letter, sharing interesting information about life as a Chardon student as well as fun facts about the Chardon community, including population, weather and culture. Students were particularly thrilled to write about the tradition of the Geauga Maple Festival, Chardon’s claim to fame for snow, and the high school football team’s clinching of the D-III state championship title this past fall.
In addition, through their research, students learned facts about Chardon that they had not known before, including when the city was incorporated, the median income in Chardon, and the massive fire on Chardon Square in 1868.
Once their letters and artwork were sealed and in the mail, students eagerly awaited the day when, in turn, mail would begin to arrive from other schools from across the country.
Soon, in February, the letters began to trickle in to both of the second-grade classes all the way from Center Moriches, New York to Santa Ana, California and everywhere in between.
Munson and Park Hilltoppers alike found it to be the highlight of their day when the mail would arrive. New mail meant another opportunity to read a letter and learn similarities and differences among classrooms and communities throughout the country.
“It is fun to get letters from all over the country because we don’t know many people from those states,” said Sobodosh as she addressed her students on Feb. 17. “So it’s fun because we get to learn about all the different things that they do there.”
Hilltoppers were fascinated to learn about their fellow American students, including sometimes vast differences in class and school sizes; variations in the types of field trips they take; and which classrooms are hybrid, remote, or in-person this year.
“We learned that a lot of classes on the West Coast are still virtual,” said Picone.
Additional learning points of the project included the Chardon students gaining recognition of where states are on the map and the appropriate way to abbreviate each state name.
“We learned in Florida there’s an island — Fleming Island,” added Munson student Ayden Edwards with wonder in his voice.
Charlotte Hart at Park Elementary reported that they learned about a class in Arizona that does not have art or music class.
“But they do have a knitting club and a counseling group,” added Hart.
To bolster the excitement, both Sobodosh and Picone created bulletin boards in the hallways outside their classrooms — featuring a colorful U.S. map with their received letters pinned up with yarn tied from each letter to the state in which it originated. Sobodosh’s bulletin board is titled Spreading the Love Across the USA and Picone’s is titled Valentines Across the USA.
Both Sobodosh and Picone agree that the rich experience this initiative imparted to their students makes it hands-down a project they look forward to implementing as a tradition in upcoming school years.
“The letters are coming from all over,” said Picone on Feb. 18. “And it’s neat because my student Astrid Meyer is waiting for hers because she used to live in Colorado so she picked a Colorado class for us to write to. They each tried to pick a state that meant something to them.”
In Park’s class letter, Picone wrote that Meyer had summed up everyone’s thoughts the best when she said “Chardon is a great community because the people work together.”