Third graders at the Milton school receive their own state

(Photo courtesy of Ronit Greenstein)

They were handing out states last week at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital.

Third-grade students spend the school year focusing on their state and incorporating it into their other studies.

On selection day, teachers dress up in red white and blue, third-grade teacher Marissa Gally said. She and fellow teacher Jessica Friedman noted that the entire school seems to be abuzz on state assignment day, even with students in upper grades talking about it.

Even before the school year begins, parents are talking about the project, Friedman said. It’s a longstanding tradition at the school. One lesson is learning “Nifty Fifty,” a song that helps students name each state. According to staff, some of the
school’s founding families discuss how they too remember learning the song when they were in the third grade at Milton. “It connects us to our roots,” said Gally.

The states are assigned to each student at random. “We want to make sure no two kids in the same class have the same state. We do not let them switch,” Gally said. Although, that doesn’t stop some students from swapping states, Friedman said.

The students integrate their state into their studies. For example, in the biography unit, teachers choose famous Americans for students to learn about. When they learn how to write paragraphs, they write about their states. In science and geography, the third graders identify national or state parks that are located within their assigned state or its region.

The project culminates in a school travel fair at the end of the year, Gally said. Students write up travel itineraries, draw up budgets and make a sales pitch as to why people should visit their state. “They do a tremendous amount of research and writing,” Friedman said.

Gally said some students actually end up traveling to their assigned state with their families and do all the activities that they had planned for their travel itinerary. She recalled one student who returned to school in the fall and excitedly told her about his family’s trip to his assigned state of Maine, and how he got to visit Acadia National Park after studying about it.

Ronit Greenstein, the school’s director of communications, said that after her daughter was assigned Louisiana, their family visited the state and the vacation proved to be “the highlight of the year.” The alligator they encountered there was a little scary, though, she added.

Once the students become experts in their assigned states, they’ll return from summer vacation to study the world. At the Milton school, fourth graders get their own country.

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