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GeoBears brave danger to teach kids about world

Melissa Molthan’s sixth-grade students at Haller Middle School pose with “Tank,” the stuffed camel that soldiers in Iraq sent back to replace the students’ GeoBear. - Courtesy photo
Melissa Molthan’s sixth-grade students at Haller Middle School pose with “Tank,” the stuffed camel that soldiers in Iraq sent back to replace the students’ GeoBear.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

ARLINGTON A teddy bear made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, as Arlington students made closer contact with the larger world than even their teachers had intended.

"Jack Frost," one of the stuffed bears in the GeoBears social studies program, was sent to American troops in Iraq, but was lost to a non-combat-related jeep fire in April.

Melissa Molthan's sixth-grade students at Haller Middle School had sent the traveling bear so they could exchange information with people in other parts of the world, to learn about other lands and cultures.

The students learned of Jack's "death" in May, but the soldiers went out of their way to replace their fuzzy fallen comrade-in-arms.

"The soldiers chipped in more than $300 to buy and ship a large stuffed camel back to our students," said Molthan, who's participated in the GeoBears program for three years. "They had to convince a pilot to unload a helicopter engine, to get a box big enough to ship it in."

Molthan admitted that her students took the loss a bit better than she did.

"They weren't devastated, but there were a lot of questions," Molthan said. "I knew I had to be careful how I talked to them about it, because I've got a boy in my morning class and a girl in my afternoon class who have family in Iraq. I think I was more freaked than the kids."

Donnica Farnsworth, a fifth-grade teacher at Kent Prairie Elementary, has participated in the GeoBears program for the past eight years, and her students also lost a bear overseas.

"Our bear was heading back home, but so many people had attached pins to it, and put other gifts in its box, that it started setting off metal detectors," Farnsworth said. "So British police blew it up as a suspicious package."

In spite of these incidents, Farnsworth and Molthan cite the far greater number of positive experiences that their students have had through the GeoBears, receiving soccer shirts from Brazil, black licorice gum from Finland and ceremonial masks, to ward off evil, from Japan.

"My fifth-graders learned about Jordanian funeral customs," Farnsworth said. "The GeoBears generate an amazing amount of interest in geography and world travel, as well as appreciation of foreign languages, cultures and customs. The students notice both the similarities and the huge differences between their cultures and our own."

The GeoBears have also been photographed taking tours of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Pyramids of Egypt.

"It brings the big world into our small classroom," Farnsworth said.

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