From the United States, with love

Six 4- and 5-year-old pupils of Sargent Preschool teacher Brandi Hodges, far left, open letters they’ve received with postcards for their drive to collect one from each of the 50 states. To Hodges’ left are Sophie Vincent, Brenna Fred and Kade Smith. Below the bulletin board are, from left, Kasen Huggins, Rex Grint, Kendri Selko, Jeremiah White, Sadie Moon and John Smolik.

Brandi Hodges’ idea for her Sargent Preschool class might not be original. But, then again, nearly everything is brand-new and amazing to little ones.

As she thought last summer about classroom topics for her 3-, 4- and 5-year-old pupils, the Texas native read on Facebook about a woman helping her daughter collect at least one postcard from every one of the 50 states.

“I just thought, when we discussed communities, that it would be fun for our preschoolers,” said Hodges, who lives at Burwell and began teaching in Sargent three years ago.

She’s nearly succeeded — and also succeeded beyond expectations.

Thanks to Facebook, the 16 Sargent preschoolers as of Friday needed only a postcard from Delaware (“The First State”) to complete their set.

They’ve received some 450 postcards, in fact, not to mention letters and a few gift packages. Hodges’ pupils have gotten postcards from Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Egypt, Australia and Canada.

Each day, “we get roughly 30 to 60 postcards right now,” she said.

Hodges, the mother of 13- and 10-year-old boys, introduced her Sargent classes in November to the concept of communities. They first learned about their own northeast Custer County town, then about the state of Nebraska.

In December, as Hodges started teaching them that the United States has 50 states, she announced their quest on the preschool’s Facebook page and asked people to help.

You can guess how it went from there. Friends shared with friends, who did likewise.

“We started getting mail a bit before Christmas, but after Christmas is when we really started getting hit,” Hodges said.

As the pupils got their first postcard from a state, Hodges checked it off by pushing a thumbtack into a U.S. map on the wall. She tacked up the postcards on a bulletin board, including the ones from other countries. She and her kids would find the state or country on maps and their light-up globe.

“Then we would look at how far it was from Nebraska to the other state or country,” she said. “We’d discuss the best way by transportation to get to each state or each country.”

And Hodges and her aide, Kelly Vincent, would sit back and enjoy their reactions.

“First of all, they love to compare the different sceneries” on the postcards, she said. “They love to see the different animals on the postcards. Those that come in the shapes of states, they really like those because they can find them.”

Many postcard donors enclosed them inside letters. One person from Louisiana sent a package including an autographed book about Mardi Gras and beads from the annual celebration. They’ve gotten a picture book from New Hampshire, Hershey bars from Pennsylvania and two boxes of maple candy from Vermont.

“They weren’t sure about that one,” Hodges said of Vermont’s gift. “I told them about the syrup on their pancakes” — even if pancake syrup does mostly come from corn these days.

The preschoolers got three postcards in all from North Pole, Alaska (which is a real city of about 2,100 people, though it’s located farther south near Fairbanks).

“Of course those are a big hit,” Hodges said. “We have one signed by ‘Mrs. S.C.’”

About 10 of Sargent Preschool’s postcards have come from other Nebraska cities, including Omaha, Lincoln, Gretna, Minden and nearby Broken Bow.

“We like to get out the bigger (Nebraska) road map and look up how far it is from Sargent to those locations,” she said. “It’s interesting how so few of them travel any farther than Grand Island and Kearney.”

When pupils’ friends and relatives get into the act, the kids have another surprise in store. Five-year-old Sadie Moon’s brother, for example, got friends from Louisiana to send a postcard — with her name on it.

“As soon as I read her name, she giggled and covered her face,” Hodges said. “She didn’t know these people.”

But the most special postcard came from a Missouri man who had grown up in Edwardsville, Illinois, and sent his parents a postcard in 1956 from a summer camp near Troy, Missouri. That’s the postcard he chose to share with Hodges’ pupils.

“To the kids, that didn’t make as much sense as it did to me,” Hodges said.

She plans when the school year ends to give each preschooler a small album with some of the postcards their class collected. Hodges plans to keep at least one from each state for an ongoing classroom display.

And she plans to do it all again in time. “I think every couple of years, because I have my kids for two years.”