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Nebraska school e-mail project nets 115,000 responses

January 18, 2001 

NEWCASTLE, Neb. — What began as an inspired geography lesson resulted in teaching some elementary school students volumes about the global reach of the Internet.

Teacher John Street sent out 25 e-mails last spring asking recipients to forward the message to others and respond with their location so his class of 13 fourth-graders could track the responses on a map.

Instead, the class project put this northeast Nebraska village and its 270 residents on the map.

Street had hoped for several hundred e-mails. But so far, more than 115,000 people have written back, with thousands of new messages arriving each day.

"In my wildest dreams, I never imagined this," Street said.

Within the first six weeks, the class received 20,000 responses -- far more than the students could plot with pins on the classroom's wall map.

"We learned all the different countries of the world," said student Tyson Springer, who most enjoyed the photographs of Earth mailed to the class by a NASA scientist.

About half of the students said they had never used e-mail before the project started last April. Now they all want their own accounts.

The class received responses from every continent. Many included attached pictures and Internet addresses.

"The most unusual place we received messages from was Antarctica," said Jennifer Davey, a student who read two messages sent last week from research scientists on the icy continent.

At least 600 more people tracked down Newcastle Public School's street address and sent letters and packages.

A woman from Australia mailed a box filled with small stuffed koala bears and books about the continent.

The only mistake Street said he made is not including an end date. He doesn't know if the responses will ever stop.


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