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Mail Must Go Through: Delivered by 3rd-Graders

February 20, 1992|SARAH M. BROWN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Psst! Pass the word--it is OK to write notes in school now.

At least it is at Grant Elementary in Long Beach, where the U.S. Postal Service is sponsoring Eagle Postal Service.

Students write notes to their friends throughout the school, and third-grade mail carriers deliver them. And the writer gets academic credit.

The program is part of Wee Deliver, a national campaign introduced by the Postal Service to help promote literacy. While exchanging letters, fourth- and fifth-graders practice writing and learn correct letter form and how to address envelopes.

"It's a life-surviving skill," said Claudia Morrett, a language arts specialist and mentor teacher who wrote the curriculum with Vice Principal Pat Chandler and math teacher Sandi Machit.

"We are using a post office theme to tie together cross-curricular ideas" such as language arts, math, social studies and history, Morrett said.

California history lessons were incorporated into stamp designs. Social studies lessons came in handy when the hallways were mapped and named for presidents. Every student, teacher, clerical worker and custodian has an address, complete with street number and apartment number.

For example, the address for Bradley Yamamoto in Wayne Minichiello's fourth-grade class is 401 Madison Square, Apt. 35., Long Beach, CA 90805.

The student response has been enthusiastic, judging by the dozens of envelopes the third-graders sort and hand cancel every morning before making their rounds to each classroom.

The workers, who had to fill out application forms, pass a test and survive an interview to get their jobs, must forgo recess to go to work. Each child works for about half an hour a day for four weeks and receives no pay other than status among their classmates. Every month a new crew is selected.

Cheryl Estrella became a mail sorter when Eagle Postal Service began Jan. 31. "Most of the kids in school want to be mail carriers now," she said.

Postmaster Adrianne Wiley worked with letter carrier Nicole Wallace sorting and canceling letters one recent morning.

"You stamped it upside down," Adrianne admonished Nicole.

The next letter did not have a complete address. "Return that one to sender," Adrianne said.

When they were finished sorting, the carriers delivered their bundles to the many buildings at the school during a downpour, undeterred by rain or wind or gloom.

When asked if he would prefer to wait out the storm before venturing out with his mailbag, Todd Saltzman, 9, said, "No, I like getting wet."

Chandler says Eagle Postal Service has unified the school. "Student postal workers enhance their self-image and promote school spirit," she said.

Clyde Kuykendall, 79, who has volunteered at the school for 47 years, spends two hours each morning supervising the mail handling. Affectionately known as "Mr. K," he has been named postmaster general of Eagle Postal Service and says the program is off to a good start.

"So far we've been busy, and they're interested," he said. "We're going to have to try it for awhile to see if it's going to be beneficial."

Morrett said the teachers are excited about Wee Deliver. "It gives them ideas about writing activities to improve academic skills," she said.

The national Wee Deliver program began more than a year ago in an elementary school in Lakeland, Fla. Officials there saw improved reading and writing scores for all the students and improved attendance by students working as postal clerks, said George Marsh of the U.S. Postal Service communications department in Long Beach.

The Office of Literacy of the U.S. Postal Service has made Wee Deliver a nationwide campaign and hopes to set up hundreds of student postal systems.

The postal service gives participating schools a kit containing a videotape describing the program and how to set it up.

"We give them a basic road map on how to get it started, and they can get as creative as they want with it," Marsh said.

Grant is the first school in the Long Beach area to implement the program.

"Now we've had requests for kits from about 25 other schools in the area," Marsh said.

The postal service also provides rubber stamps, hats, mailbags and distribution centers for sorting the mail.

It does not provide postage stamps, however. Grant students entered their designs in a stamp contest, and the two winning stamps, which are duplicated on the school copy machine, are now in daily circulation.

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