ROCHESTER — Students at St. John the Evangelist School don’t need to buy plane tickets or make reservations at overseas hotels to travel the world. Instead, they’re using their minds to journey around the globe through the “Passport Club.”
At the beginning of the school year, students at St. John’s were issued small booklets that resemble real passports. Each month, the students are asked to learn about different nations highlighted on maps in classrooms. Then they are asked to answer questions about the countries highlighted. Once a month on “Check Day” parent volunteers place copies of foreign stamps in students’ passports if they successfully answer various geography questions, according to Jean Wolfs, a St. John’s parent who coordinates the Passport Club.
No grades are issued for the students’ achievements, she said, and the children are allowed to choose one level out of five available to play the Passport Club game. For example, if a child plays Level One of the Passport Club, he must learn about 40 countries and the seven continents before year’s end. If a child plays Level Five, he must learn all the world’s countries plus 40 capital cities, the continents, oceans, seas, deserts and mountain ranges. Next year, Wolfs said, the Level Five children will be asked to complete at least 10 special geography-related projects during the year. Such projects may include learning how to count to 10 in a foreign language, she said.
“It really builds their study skills,” Wolfs said of the students’ participation in the club. “(The students are) really aware of the world. I think they enjoy it because there’s no pressure for a grade.”
Indeed, as school parents checked passports in the school basement one day, students excitedly chattered about what they had learned and what stamps they had earned. Will Leonardo and Veronica Armone, both in third grade, said they liked being in the Passport Club.
“It’s fun,” Veronica said. “I didn’t know half of this stuff before. Now I know it.”
She added that she and her dad enjoyed learning about the African nation of Mozambique, and that her favorite country name is India. Meanwhile, Will noted that “Canada” was “fun to say,” and that he also learned about Turkey.
“Must be a lot of turkeys there,” he quipped.
Since it began in 1994 at an elementary school in Washington state, the Passport Club program has spread rapidly and operates in more than 70 schools in seven U.S. states, as well as in schools in France, China, Egypt, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. Schools can obtain Passport Club materials, at an average cost of $2 to $3 per student, through Lynn Erickson, who may be reached at 360/438-2259.
According to the Diocese of Rochester’s Department of Catholic Schools, in addition to St. John’s, the schools of St. Rita in Webster and Good Shepherd in Henrietta also have Passport Clubs. Wolfs said she learned of the Passport Club through St. Rita.
Part of the reason Wolfs said she wanted to start a Passport Club at St. John’s was that her Dutch husband, Frank, knew so much more about geography than she did.
“You can’t find anyone in Holland who doesn’t know something about the Erie Canal,” said Frank Wolfs, who is a parent volunteer with the club.
He added that his children have become much more knowledgeable about the world through the Passport Club.
“It’s nice to see that they can go to a world map and point out certain things,” he said.