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Class project, with help on Facebook, mushrooms into appreciation of Kansas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, at 8:34 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 5, 2013, at 9:38 a.m.

It could have been a routine Kansas history project.

But this year, Mary Myers had her 50 seventh-graders at Council Grove Middle School try something different. She wanted to make Kansas real to them.

For the first part of the assignment – completed on Jan. 29, Kansas Day – she had the students write letters to Kansans. They had to write the old-fashioned way – on paper, use envelopes and stamps and send it to someone they knew.

“People started writing back and telling stories about all kinds of fun stuff,” Myers said.

Brittney Wells, 12, soon discovered that Lawrence, with a population of 88,700, was so large “people can’t just walk around everywhere.” That was important to know, she said, because her mom is paralyzed and uses a scooter to get around Council Grove, population 2,160.

She also found out her family used to live in Abilene and that her grandfather was a Stover, as was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s mother, Ida.

“That’s how we started,” Myers said. “Once the letters started coming back, the kids started thinking this could be so much bigger. Then, Facebook popped into the picture.”

The class created a Facebook page, “Where on Earth is Kansas?” The goal was to have someone from each city or town in Kansas like the page and post their location.

At 5 p.m. on Monday they had three likes. Then, the students started talking about it, telling parents and grandparents to “like” the page.

By the time Myers went to bed on Monday night, the page had 40 likes. By Friday evening, the page had generated 1,844 likes. And on Sunday, there were 2,277.

They are averaging 300 posts a day; 50 inbox messages; receiving 30 to 50 pictures a day and are estimating more than 52,000 are now watching their page.

“Never in a million years did we think we’d get this many people,” she said.

They have heard from about 320 of the more than 600 towns in Kansas plus from Kansas natives all over the world: Australia, the Philippines, India and elsewhere.

“One was from a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who told us he couldn’t tell us his exact location but the plane he flies every day was made in Wichita,” Myers said.

There is no class time spent on the Facebook page. Everything is done before school, at lunch, during study hall and after school.

The only towns that are counted are the ones where the sender says they are actually living at currently.

In the process, the class is learning facts about Kansas:

“Kansas used to be under a whole ocean,” said Sam Kirk, 12. “That’s how we have all these fossils.”

Indeed during the Cretaceous and Permian periods, a shallow ocean covered the state and when the waters evaporated, it left vast salt deposits and other mineral deposits that helped create today’s oil, gas and gypsum industries.

The town of Dexter, Kirk said, is where his grandmother is from – and where, in 1903, helium was discovered and where Tom Henry moved after inventing the Oh Henry! candy bar.

Beau Peterson has been fascinated by the pictures people send and now believes “Kansas is a pretty place.”

The immediate goal, their teacher Myers said, is to have someone from every town in Kansas respond to their page. But in the process they are also learning about how Kansas is viewed by people throughout the world.

“They asked, ‘Could you take us to some of these places?’ And, ‘No, I can’t,’ ” Myers said. “Maybe their parents can’t either.

“But the most important thing they are learning is that they live in a beautiful and unique place.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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