When Brenda Moen was first appointed principal of Riverside Public School, she hit the Internet for some information on her new school. That’s when she discovered there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Riverside schools around the world, including one in Elmira, New York.
Now a simple paper raccoon travelling by post is connecting students in Elmira to students at those other Riversides. Last week “Flat Roly” returned from Riverside School in Prague, Czech Republic.
The idea originated with a children’s book titled “Flat Stanley” by Jeff Brown. It’s a story about a boy who receives a bulletin board from his father and hangs it over his bed. The bulletin board falls on Stanley while he’s sleeping, flattening him. He’s upset until he realizes he can slip under locked doors, become a kite, and go through the mail in an envelope.
In 1995, a teacher in London, Ontario named Dale Hubert started the Flat Stanley project, encouraging his students to write to pen pals by sending Stanley back and forth and keeping a journal of his activities.
Riverside’s variation is Flat Roly, a two-dimensional version of their school mascot, Roly the Raccoon. There are actually three Flat Rolys making their way around the world; the other two are going on adventures in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and Orpington, Kent, England.
Moen said she got an enthusiastic response from other elementary principals when she contacted them about the idea.
Moen had help from her student principal advisory council – Alexis Phinney, Audrey Gruneberg, Rylan Bearinger and Tony McIntyre – to write a description of Riverside and Elmira. Their introduction included hockey, the maple syrup festival, and school spirit days, as well as a map showing exactly where Elmira is.
The Flat Roly project is similar to the travelling gnome prank (captured in the movie Amelie) where someone “kidnaps” a garden gnome and takes it along on their travels, returning it to its owners with pictures of the gnome in all the places it’s been. The first Flat Roly returned with a photo of himself standing on the historic Charles Bridge, with part of the city of Prague in the background.
The students haven’t decided where Flat Roly will head next, but it will probably be somewhere closer to home, so the raccoon will make it back to Elmira before the school year ends.