When Charlotte Parrish found out that her son's school, Centerville Elementary, wouldn't receive school district funds to implement a geography skills program, she said she "stomped her feet" and volunteered to run it herself.
The result of Parrish's concern has been a school enrichment program that makes learning about faraway places fun and helps students buck a national trend of geographic illiteracy.Since the program's inception last fall, the school has had monthly assemblies about Finland, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, the Middle East, South Africa and Korea. During the assemblies, children learned foreign phrases, saw photographs, had a martial arts demonstration and learned about cultural differences.
"They have learned there are a lot of similarities between children here and what children in the other countries do," Parrish said.
During an early assembly, held on the day of the opening ceremonies of the Seoul Olympics, groups of children represented different countries and were required to tell about the country and say a phrase in the native language.
In February the students will learn about France. This spring, the school will hold a dance festival featuring folk dances from around the world. The programs have sparked an unusual enthusiasm for understanding the world, Parrish said.
During the assemblies, students have asked questions about whether or not people in the other countries have television, what they eat and whether they drive cars. During the assembly on South Africa, students were surprised to learn there were cities in South Africa, Parrish said.
Kelly Blackham, a student, said she liked the program about Norway because it was the home of her ancestors. Another student, Amir Ashrafi, whose parents are from Iran, enjoys sharing information with other students about his family's cultural background. Principal Ofelia Wade said students have also enjoyed sharing foreign phrases they have learned.
Some 50 of the school's 600 students have passed a geography quiz that Wade administers. When they think they are ready, students approach the large map posted in the school's lobby and name all of the world's major continents, oceans and five major countries, she said.
Wade said the school was prompted to implement the program after recent polls and tests showed an alarming ignorance of geography. One, a Gallup poll conducted last summer, showed that one out of four Americans couldn't locate the Persian Gulf and the majority were lost when it came to finding Britain, France or Japan.
At Centerville Elementary, Japan has become a favorite of students taking the quiz, along with Brazil, Canada, Soviet Union, South Africa and China, Wade said.
The cost of the program, which is guided by a volunteer committee of 15 teachers and parents, is split between the PTA and the school. Although the school didn't receive district funding this year for the program, teachers and volunteers have been trained through the district's gifted and talented program.
PTA President Vicki Hoth credits Parrish not just with demanding that a program be implemented in a school but with taking the initiative to make it work, with or without money. In the future, the program will expand into small-group instruction and eventually offer research opportunities for interested students.