The sky was blue, the sun was out, the temperature just right, and so it was a great day to get out of the classroom and take a stroll down the tree-canopied walkways at Moon Lake Elementary.
No rain, snow, sleet or hail to overcome in these parts. But there was still work to be done. That had 11-year-old Cody McCue thinking there must be a faster way to pick up the letters and cards that had been stashed in the colored canvas bags hung on the classroom door handles.
"I so wish I had a golf cart," Cody said with a giggle as he and his classmates collected the mail on First Things First Freeway, Leadership Lane and Win Win Way.
But hoofing it is part of working for the Manatee Mail Post Office that's just starting at Moon Lake. Cody and his classmates were tending to the very first mail pickup for the schoolwide program that adopts elements of the U.S. post office's Wee Deliver Program.
Students learn reading and writing skills, work ethics and the value of a handwritten letter in an instant message world, said literacy coach Valerie Burnett. She set up a school post office in the media center along with fellow teachers and sponsors Mary Klag, Johanna Irizarry and Mary Tavo. "Best of all — every student is a part of it."
The program kicked off Jan. 14 with a swearing-in ceremony for student postmasters and mail carriers, led by Tom Carli, postal clerk for the New Port Richey Main Street Post Office.
"We've been doing this for over 20 years to promote letter writing and good penmanship," Carli said. "It's kind of a lost art these days because of e-mail and texting."
After filling out applications and getting teacher recommendations, students are assigned various "jobs": picking up mail, sorting and delivering it and taking a tally of how many letters and postcards each classroom is sending out, because there might just be a contest for letter writers later on.
"We have to show that we have good manners and things like not slacking off on the job," said Chris Cote, 10, who was being sworn in as a mail carrier alongside 9-year-old classmates Jaeden Hylad and Evan and Julian French.
Students learn something about the history of the postal service that was started by Ben Franklin when the Founding Fathers needed a way to get their correspondence delivered, about the Pony Express, and the fact that mail is still delivered by donkey in parts of the Grand Canyon.
Work ethics are a big part of it. A carrier's responsibility is to get that letter to where it's supposed to go, no matter what. And under no circumstances are carriers allowed to open or read a letter addressed to someone else.
In their classrooms, students hone the fine art of letter writing and how to properly address an envelope. Any kind of sticker can serve as a stamp in the Manatee Mail program, but if you forget to put one on or don't get the address right, your letter will come back marked "Return to Sender."