Up, up and away…and back!

Hanceville students release balloons, get letters

Hanceville Elementary School first graders released balloons with special messages attached Feb. 8, 2021. The students have already received a letter from a man in Chickamauga, Georgia. (Courtesy of Michelle Pender)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – First graders at Hanceville Elementary School (HES) celebrated the 100th day of school Feb. 8 by releasing special balloons. Already, they have received a letter from someone who found one, along with the special message and directions attached to it. In years past, students have received letters from as far away as Canada.

For several years, first graders at HES have been using the fun balloon activity to learn about geography, weather and wind currents.

“We want to teach the students how things travel and how what we do can affect not just our area but other areas,” said first-grade teacher Michelle Pender. “It’s also a great geography lesson to pull up and see places. We can pull it up on Google Maps and actually see the field where it was (found), and they really enjoy that.”

The students released the balloons Feb. 8 and received their first letter four days later on Feb. 12. The letter came from a gentleman in Chickamauga, Georgia, approximately 120 miles away by air.

Said Pender, “The man was very nice and responded very quickly. It is so much fun, and the kids enjoy the process of it.”

The students anticipate receiving more letters in the coming days and weeks. Last year’s first graders received two letters from Canada, but they weren’t able to share in their excitement as school had already been closed due to COVID-19.

“The kids didn’t exactly get to enjoy it a whole lot, but that’s why we do it; it’s an interesting study on how things travel and the effect we can have,” said Pender. “Even though it was a 120 mile trek where it went, it’s a small world after all.”

Pender said of the gentleman from Georgia, “He said he found the balloon on Feb. 9. He was very particular and said, ‘I found it today, Feb. 9 at 1 p.m.’ It was really sweet that he took the time to sit down and write it to us.”

Last year’s late January balloon release garnered letters from March until July, shared Pender. “We usually average about 10 letters. We’ve gotten them from North and South Carolina, lots from Georgia, and even one from Opp, Alabama. It always seems to be from north and east.” She recalled that last year’s release was on an “exceptionally blustery day.”

The balloons are purchased each year by members of Pender’s church, and Dollar Tree typically gives a small discount. Small, laminated cards are then attached to each balloon giving instructions to potential finders.

Pender has been searching for biodegradable balloons but has yet to find affordable ones. She said, “I am still on the hunt and if anybody knows where to get good, inexpensive biodegradable balloons, we are interested and please let us know!”

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Courtesy of Michelle Pender
Courtesy of Michelle Pender
Courtesy of Michelle Pender

Christy Perry