By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Birchwood Elementary School’s fifth-graders have a question for you: Which state needs to be sharpened?
Pennsylvania, of course!
OK, if you didn’t get that one, here’s another chance: Which state has 2,000 pounds of laundry?
Despite an impressive lineup of state name puns, Birchwood’s 18th annual State Fair on Wednesday, Feb. 11, was no joke.
During the yearly celebration of state-related learning, students drew a crowd of parents and teachers for patriotic songs, a line-dancing performance, and, of course, some heavy-duty puns.
Then, they stood at booths with carefully researched reports and dioramas, educating guests about the mountains of West Virginia and the history of Hawaii. Finally, they feasted on state-themed treats like Boston Cream Pie for Massachusetts and cotton candy-flavored treats for Tennessee. (Did you know cotton candy was invented in Tennessee?)
Fifth-grade teachers Ellen DiRienzo and Lynn Johnston said the students had a lot to be proud of.
They had studied history, geography and writing in preparation for the showcase, even writing persuasive reports that combined alluring travel information with important facts.
It was a lot of work for the kids — and some parents, judging by a few of the dioramas — so the celebration was well-earned.
“When they look back, it’s a highlight,” DiRienzo said.
“They do remember,” Johnston added.
Fifth-grader Ryan Behar studied Hawaii, and stood behind a lighted diorama that displayed a classic postcard with a hula dancer, a stuffed whale, and a grove of plastic palm trees.
“It has one of the tallest volcanoes in the world,” he said of his chosen state. Students drew Popsicle sticks to determine who got to pick a state first, and Ryan clearly landed an early choice.
The brochure that accompanied his diorama was his biggest point of pride from the project.
“I was trying to persuade people a little bit,” he said. “If they read this, they might want to go there. But it’s more about explaining.”
On the other side of the decked-out gymnasium, which even included a state fair-style pen of prize-winning, papier-mache farm animals for ambiance, classmates Indirah Francis and Stella Mirkovich stood side-by-side promoting their states.
They said they’d learned a lot. “I knew it was called the Mountain State before,” Indirah said, showing off her diorama of West Virginia. “I learned that John Henry was a tall tale they made up.”
Both girls agreed, though, that the biggest accomplishment was simply finishing a project that was one of the largest they had ever taken on.
“I’m really proud that I got everything finished and it still looks good,” Stella said. Her project was all about Mississippi.
Indirah echoed her sentiment.
“I’m most proud of how it turned out,” she said. “I didn’t really have time to do it, but you make time.”
Clearly, one of the landmark celebrations of fifth grade at Birchwood is accompanied by a project that gives kids a glimpse of the challenges they’ll face when they graduate to middle school.
But it’s a lot of fun, too. And in that spirit, here’s one final joke: Which elementary school’s students would beat most grownups at a game of fifty-states trivia?
(Ha … get it? Birchwood?)
Ahem. Maybe we should leave the puns to the students, too.
Photos by Rebecca Isenhart