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Geography contest balloon crosses ocean to S. Africa
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Collinsville Primary kindergartner Katelynn Renz holds the remnant of her balloon, its envelope postmarked from South Africa and and a letter from the school PTO noting the balloon’s journey. Principal Sandy Gammons holds the note from the hotel in South Africa where Katelynn’s balloon was found.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

By KATHRIN KLENSHTEYN - Bulletin Staff Writer

It is hard to believe that a small helium balloon released in Martinsville could land somewhere farther than Virginia or North Carolina.

It might even be harder to believe that such a balloon crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Africa. But it did.

Balloons released into the air on Sept. 15 by students at Collinsville Primary landed as nearby as Ridgeway and, as the school's staff learned Monday, as far as Plettenberg Bay, South Africa.

Students launched 281 helium balloons as a geography contest to see how far the balloons would travel. The school's Parent Teacher Organization sold the balloons to students as a fund-raiser. The students then attached cards to them, declaring that the finders of the balloons are "balloon buddies" and should return the cards to the school.

Katelynn Renz, 5, was the proud owner of the balloon that went to Africa.

She was happy, she said, "because my balloon went the farthest."�

The postmarked and stamped letter reads: "We found the remnants of your balloon on the lawn of our hotel here in South Africa. What a trip the balloon took. We live in Cape Town and were vacationing here."

The author also expressed the hope that the student's balloon would be the one that went the farthest.

Exactly how the balloon made the long trip is anyone's guess.

Collinsville Primary Principal Sandy Gammons and other teachers speculated that Renz's balloon could have floated on Bermuda trade winds straight across the ocean to Africa. Another theory is that the balloon could have found its way into the luggage compartment of an airplane.

But no one had a clue as to how it got as far south as South Africa.

In the United States, the farthest balloon that was reported to the school landed in Youngsville, N.C., which is about 144 miles away.

Gammons, a former social studies teacher, said social studies still is her passion and she enjoys maps and geography in particular.

"If you intrigue and engage kids, I think they'll have that passion for learning," she said, referring to the students' interest being sparked by the balloon exercise.


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