- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ana Silva can’t travel to Portugal anytime soon to visit her cousin, so she’s sending Flat Stanley instead.

As a first-grade student in Laura Morrison’s class at Baldwin Elementary School in Manassas, Ana, 6, of Manassas, recently read the book “Flat Stanley,” by Jeff Brown.

In the book, Stanley Lambchop is squashed by a bulletin board. After he is flattened, he is able to travel to California in an envelope, a much less expensive method than purchasing a train or airplane ticket. Today, he continues to travel when children send their own versions of him on adventures.

“I want Flat Stanley to have fun in Portugal,” Ana says. “I want him to see the sights. I told my cousin to fly a kite with him and give him some food.”

The Flat Stanley Project (https://flatstanley.enoreo.on.ca), started 10 years ago by Dale Hubert in London, Ontario, Canada, consists of a group of teachers who want to provide students with a reason to write letters. Students design their own paper Flat Stanleys and send them to correspondents around the globe.

People interested in participating in the Flat Stanley Project are listed on the Web site. Letters also can be sent to friends and family.

Recipients make a journal of their activities with Flat Stanley, take photographs with him, and send him back to his creator. Last year, 6,000 classes from 47 countries took part in the program.

Flat Stanley creates an opportunity for authentic learning, says Mr. Hubert, a third-grade teacher at Wilfrid Jury Public School in London, Ontario. He says he believes children learn more when they are involved with meaningful activities.

“Children aren’t just writing pretend letters,” Mr. Hubert says. “They are writing real letters to real people and getting real replies. They are sending letters to people they admire and respect, so they want to do their best work.”

The correspondence allows the children to learn about people and places they may never visit, Mr. Hubert says. Flat Stanley gives people a common interest to discuss, creating a bridge for communication, he says.

“It’s like you have a mutual friend,” Mr. Hubert says. “He opens the door to higher levels of imagination.”

“I want Flat Stanley to hug my dad,” says Elena Vlahopoulos, 6, of Manassas, a student in Mrs. Morrison’s class. Her father is in the military in Bosnia. “I want Flat Stanley to tell him that I miss him.”

The White House had to add a Web page to accommodate the thousands of Flat Stanleys it receives every year, Mr. Hubert says.

Flat Stanley has had adventures with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and actor Clint Eastwood. He also has appeared on television shows, such as “The West Wing,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “ER,” “Third Watch” and “King of the Hill.”

“One boy had a friend of the family that he called his aunt,” Mr. Hubert says. “She didn’t have any children of her own. She was involved with his Flat Stanley project. When she died of cancer, he made her a Flat Stanley with a Hershey’s chocolate bar to take to heaven. He put it by her gravestone.”

Students gain better geography skills through the project, such as understanding where Virginia is in relation to other places, Mrs. Morrison says. It also gives students an opportunity to improve their handwriting.

Mrs. Morrison has created a bulletin board to post the letters from correspondents who return Flat Stanleys. In previous years, Flat Stanleys have returned to her students signed by actor Antonio Banderas and the cast of the feature film “Daddy Day Care.”

Recently, Becky Peach, part-time first-grade teacher at Baldwin Elementary School, took Flat Stanley to China. She took pictures during her time abroad. She also e-mailed Mrs. Morrison’s class as Flat Stanley several times.

Also, when children receive Flat Stanleys in the mail they can learn more about their own city as they take Stanley to local sights, Mrs. Morrison says.

“The parents absolutely love the project,” Mrs. Morrison says. “Students who have participated in it have lasting memories.”

Maureen Arvai, library secretary at Baldwin Elementary School, says her 20-year-old son, Kevin, still remembers sending a Flat Stanley during kindergarten to her brother in Cape Cod, Mass.

Recently, Mr. Arvai, a student at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., received a Flat Stanley in the mail from his 8-year-old cousin Brian McGee in Richmond. Mr. Arvai gave Flat Stanley a taste of college life, taking him to class, basketball practice and the dining hall.

“Everybody’s Flat Stanley goes somewhere different,” Mrs. Arvai says. “The kids identify with Flat Stanley as one of them. It’s like they’re having adventures.”

Sending Flat Stanley in the mail is much better than attempting to fit [himself] in an envelope, says Elijah Poteet, 7, of Fair Hill, Md. Elijah and his sister, Ella, 6, are home-schooled by their mother, Josey Poteet. The latest Flat Stanley Elijah sent went to a soldier in Iraq.

“He will know about things that are actually happening there that I won’t be able to know,” Elijah says. “I want to find out what other places are like.”

Spending a few days traveling in the mail probably would be uncomfortable for most people, but Flat Stanley folds nicely into an envelope, says Rylee Harman, 8, of Reisterstown, Md., a third-grade student in Shannon Mullineaux’s class at Gerstell Academy in Finksburg, Md. She sent Flat Stanley to a class in Iowa.

“I like to send Flat Stanley to a faraway place and get him back and see where he went,” Rylee says. “I received my cousin’s Flat Stanley and I went to Fort McHenry in Baltimore.”

Each of the students in Ms. Mullineaux’s class have sent Flat Stanleys to classrooms in two states. Right now, they’re waiting for the Flat Stanleys to return.

Although Flat Stanley has been an ambassador of good will around the globe, Mr. Hubert says he is not opposed to children creating characters using their own names.

“You don’t have to call him Flat Stanley,” Mr. Hubert says. “You can call him Flat Bill or Flat Jane. You can put your own face on it. Your own skin color and gender. Those things don’t matter when you’re flat.”


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