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Olympia

School District

1113 Legion Way SE
Olympia, WA 98501
Office: (360) 596-6100

Students travel the world through geography enrichment program

Second grader Toby Cushman has seen the world. And he has a stamped passport to prove it.

Even more remarkable, more than 85 percent of his fellow students at LP Brown Elementary have also been around the world — from Nicaragua to New Zealand, and from Greenland to the Galapagos Islands.

The 300 first through fifth graders are active participants in a geography enrichment program, “Brown’s World,” sponsored and coordinated by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).

The program started more than a decade ago at LP Brown and is supported by a PTO coordinator and a team of seven or more parent and community volunteers.

Each month, students interested in participating receive maps to study at home. First and second graders study the world, while those in grades three through five study both the world and United States geography.

Students learn to identify the location of continents, countries, states, oceans, rivers, mountains, islands and other world features in areas including North and Central America, South America, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa.The maps and locations selected for study are geared for each particular grade level, and students must pass their own grade level, as well as those leading up to their grade level, before advancing to the next step.

At the end of each month, each class throughout the school comes to the music stage, where they are quizzed on their knowledge by a group of volunteers. With each successful answer, volunteers highlight the countries listed in a Brown’s World passport — a paper booklet with a page for each month.

Students are invited to glue into the booklet up to three canceled world stamps from among several hundred stamps spread across a table. Magnifying glasses provide students an opportunity to see the worldwide images up close.

The recognition doesn’t stop there.

Each month, the class that has the most students record a passing score gets to display a gold-painted Brown’s World globe decorated with sparkly colored sequins. Then, at the end of the year, students are awarded bronze, silver or gold medals based on their overall achievement.

The intent of the program is to have students study the maps at home as an enrichment to their day-to-day classroom learning. However, because students are so excited about what they are learning, many teachers often reference the program in their lessons. Third-grade teacher Heidi Wilson even takes the geography quizzes along with her class.

“One of the things I really enjoy teaching my students about is the world,” Wilson said. “Many of our kids have little experience with the world outside their neighborhoods. I hope that learning about different places will inspire our children to want to travel and be a part of our Global Community.”

While students are only asked to identify the location of specific geographic areas, they learn much more in the process, said PTO Browns World program coordinator Collette Rauch. In addition to studying the geography, the maps sent home with students also feature fun facts about the area, such as types of animals and food, as well as famous landmarks and tourist destinations.

“Students learn there is something bigger than Olympia,” Rauch said. “And for those who may not have the means to travel to other countries, it gives them a chance to learn about the world.”

If she could visit anywhere in the world, fourth grader Siana Graham said she would choose Paris. “I want to see the Eiffel Tower,” she said.

Second grader Andy Gorrell pondered the question awhile before flashing a big smile and confidently choosing Hawaii.

“I like the beach,” he said. “And I love pineapples.”

Toby Cushing, a second grader who has advanced to the fifth-grade level in Brown’s World, said his grandpa introduced him to maps and he has enjoyed studying them ever since.

His father Scott, whose job gives him the flexibility to volunteer once a week in the classroom, volunteered for the first time this week in Brown’s World. He said his son frequently talks about the program at home, and he sees the benefits of what students are learning.

“The world is not just where we live,” he said. “It is another step toward empathy and another gateway to understanding the world.”

Longtime Brown’s World volunteers Allen and Fern Morrow have watched the program grow over time. The Olympia residents started volunteering 13 years ago when some of their neighbors’ children attended LP Brown Elementary. They keep coming back to volunteer because they believe in the program.

Fern said she likes to watch how competitive and excited the students get trying to guess the correct answers, and Allen said he is happy students are learning more about geography and the basics of how to read a map.

The concept of Brown’s World is similar to, but also unique from, geography enrichment programs run by parent groups at some of the district’s other elementary schools, said Principal Joel Lang. One of the school’s former volunteers, who worked for a mapping company, created the colorful world maps still used today as part of the program.

“Brown’s World is a tradition at this school,” Lang said. “The kids have fun, and it helps them get a sense of where they are in the world to understand they are global citizens.”