SATW Traveling Teddy: Weston rides along

The interviewers – almost 20 of them – had done their homework, taken notes, made a few judgments and were pleasant but relentless.

“Where will you go next?”

“Why do you like to travel?”

“What is your favorite place?”

“Can you find anything in your office?”

Patrice Pierce’s spunky class of first graders at Mountain Bay Elementary School, Weston (Marathon County), is prepared for summer vacation. We have gotten to know each other because their buddy Buttons, a six-inch teddy bear, traveled with me during the school year.

This month it was time for Buttons to head home, and the class was eager to reclaim their silent friend, who put on thousands of miles since last taking up classroom shelf space.

The students received postcards from Europe and Canada, Florida and Pennsylvania. They’ve seen pictures of Buttons in all kinds of odd places, near the top of Mt. Hood in Oregon, sitting next to a mammoth skeleton in South Dakota, hanging out with sled dogs in Wisconsin. The children have nibbled on huckleberry-flavored taffy, maple cream cookies, bison sausage sticks, German-made chocolate.

Patrice did a stupendous job of using each adventure as a teaching opportunity and invitation for student creativity to soar, through words and pictures.

Why shouldn’t the foursome on Mount Rushmore be smiling? And why shouldn’t Abe Lincoln be wearing a stovepipe hat there? That’s what class artwork suggested.

When is Pennsylvania perhaps not in the U.S.? When it is called Amish country. That passing reference, on a postcard, was understandable confusing to some students.

These interludes got them all thinking about a world bigger than their neighborhood, and that’s a very good thing.

“Some of them have not traveled far from the Wausau area while others have traveled farther, but it opened the door to think about different places they could go and even how they can explore things close to home,” teacher Patrice said, in a lovely “thank you” book that her class prepared.

“I want to go to Mt. Rushmore because the rock is huge,” wrote Joseph Buettner.

“I want to go to Michigan,” wrote Jack Denk. “They speak the same language that we do.”

“I want to go to Russia because I can learn a different language there,” wrote Megan Halambeck.

“I would like to go to Mexico because it is warm,” wrote Morgan Jansen.

“I would like to go to Hawaii because of the pineapple,” wrote Kenzie Medick-Pitzen.

“I want to go to Hawaii because my grampa lives there,” wrote Gracie Sessler.

“I want to go to Texas because there are cactuses there,” wrote Payton Mondeik.

“I want to go to Texas because I want to be a cowboy,” wrote Kaign Reifschneider.

My hope is that they all stay enthusiastic about chasing those dreams.

I’m looking for a new traveling companion, from a different Wisconsin town, for the 2008-09 school year. If you are a teacher and this interests you, please contact me by July 1. Send a note about why you’d like to participate.

This project is based upon the Society of American Travel Writers’ Traveling Teddy Bear program. The stuffed animal is an ambassador, spreading goodwill while helping his owners better understand the world, one small part at a time.

Teachers in grades K-12 will learn about Wisconsin’s cultural diversity and geography during “Making It Home” summertime field trips, made possible through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

The project previously was called “Here at Home.”

“This year we have a special focus on interactions among Wisconsin peoples, land and water,” says Ruth Olson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at UW-Madison. Her department, the Wisconsin Arts Board and Wisconsin Humanities Council present the excursions.

A 4.5-day Ashland/Bayfield tour is full, but also scheduled is a field trip to Milwaukee from Aug. 4-8.

For more: http://csumc.wisc.edu/WTLC/tour2008, 608-262-8180.