Fairview Elementary students learn about geography and directions with a little help from a big map

OLATHE, Kan. — Some local elementary students found their place in the world thanks to Don and Cheryl Everhart with Main Street U.S.A. They found their place on a map, that is.

Main Street U.S.A. calls itself a “geographic field trip.” The program gives day-long lessons to third, fourth, and fifth graders based on “a region of the United States or an event in American history or other geographic topics,” according to the program’s website.

Fourth grade students from Fairview Elementary learned about maps and directions on Wednesday with a little help from a big map.

bigmapThe State Geographic Alliance loaned the giant map, created by National Geographic, to the Everharts to let students get some hands-on learning, or “feet-on” learning as the students unrolled the map on the floor and literally walked on it.

“Kids don’t get enough hands on activities,” Don said. “With the emphasis on testing, there just isn’t a lot of time for those hands on activities that you and I remember as students in elementary school.”

The Everharts started the program 16 years ago, and while teaching methods may have changed, their mission has stayed the same.

don-and-cheryl“Our hopes are that we’re teaching the Kansas standards, with regions, to the students, helping the teachers, but also reinforcing cardinal and intermediate directions of kids actually having to put that into practice on a map,” Cheryl said.

In those 16 years, the Everharts have seen students’ interaction with maps change dramatically. Cheryl said even with new technology, it’s best to understand the principles of geography and direction.

“Sometimes those GPS’s aren’t accurate. And so it’s just good to know where you’re at without depending on other types of media sources,” Cheryl explained.

The program takes a topic and creates lessons and activities for the kids.

bigmap2“We usually try to do two games, two cooking activities which the kids love, and two craft activities. Sometimes a computer activity,” Don said.

Main Street U.S.A. partners with the Olathe Junior Service League, which helps out financially and provides volunteers. The program also works with the Olathe Public Schools Foundation and Olathe district schools.

Those partnerships, and the Everharts’ tireless work, have reached a lot of kids.

“We’re very proud of the program,” Cheryl said. “We’re getting close to 65,000 kids through the program. This year we’ll be working with about 4,000 children. So we’re excited.”