Curtis Polley, a fifth-grader in Sorensen Elementary School, has been friends with Lester since kindergarten.
On Friday, Curtis said goodbye to his long-eared friend as the stuffed bunny prepared to travel the world.
“I call him Lt. Lester because of his backpack,” said Curtis, referring to the miniature camouflage knapsack his mother fashioned for Lester.
Curtis’ mother isn’t the only adult participating in the class project that involves map-reading, letter-writing, math, research and geography.
Truck drivers, flight attendants, mail carriers, pilots and others will pass the panda bears, koala bears, gingerbread dolls, bunnies, pigs and teddy bears along to others in hopes that the toys will help the Sorensen fifth-graders see the world.
The bears and their brethren will be passed person-to-person until they eventually make their way back, the children hope.
“We wanted to travel around the world in order to learn about it but that was impossible,” reads a letter that accompanies each animal. “So, we decided to send our stuffed animals instead.”
On Friday, during a class send-off celebration, teacher Nicole Sweet asked, “What are the cardinal directions?”
“Ooh, ooh, ooh,” the children jockeyed for attention as they stretched their arms ceiling-bound. They did the same when invited to talk about their toys’ itineraries.
Sid the bear has already left for Australia. Bandit, an Ewok from Star Wars fame, is headed either to Alaska or Connecticut with a cassette tape, in case anyone wants to share their favorite music.
Lou, a 16-year-old gingerbread man is heading to Cairo with a flight attendant.
“I wish that my animal likes the food on the plate and that he gets across the Atlantic Ocean safe,” said Willie Mueller of Lou, which he borrowed from his sister.
Each toy carries its own passport with a color picture of teacher Nicole Sweet’s class and a travel journal in a padded envelope.
The letter asks that travel companions make journal entries and, if possible, send postcards to the class so they can track their routes. Little souvenirs are welcome, too.
The animals are supposed to return by April 12. Jo Ellen Schmidt hopes they come pack, especially Short Stuff, her pink stuffed pig.
“I didn’t want to send him, because I liked him,” she said.
Jessica Wolfe decided to send her bunny, Snowball, because, “I have a lot specialer ones, and he’s dirty already.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo