Jim Havlicsek used his size 3 1/2 black high-top sneakers to help measure off Arizona. Then he checked the whole West Coast, carefully walking the coastline from Washington to California. And when Nevada didn't look right, the 10-year-old helped blow away its borders.
Who was this mighty mite and what was he doing tramping through our country?
The fourth-grader was one of 25 volunteers -- students, faculty and parents -- who spent yesterday drawing and painting an outdoor 40-by-60-foot map of the United States at Reisterstown Elementary School.
The project was the idea of Bill Fitzhugh, a first-grade teacher at the school who is active in a number of geographical organizations. Mr. Fitzhugh sees the map as an entertaining way to get children interested in geography.
"Geography has taken a back seat to math, science and reading in our educational system," Mr. Fitzhugh said. "Yet, geography is important if our kids want to keep up with and understand the rapidly changing events in the world and in our own country."
Using as a guide a map of the United States drawn on a grid system, the volunteers drew the borders of the 48 contiguous states following a corresponding grid system laid out on a parking lot beside the school.
With the blue chalk outline of the states completed, the lines were checked for accuracy and proportion. Young Jim Havlicsek noticed that Nevada was too fat. He and Mr. Fitzhugh blew away the chalk line so a more accurate border could be drawn. "This is fun," said Jim, who said he liked geography.
Not many schoolchildren in this country do. In recent years, national polls and school testing have shown that school-age children are woefully lacking in geography knowledge. Thousands of children, tests have shown, don't even know where Canada or the Great Lakes are.
On the Reisterstown Elementary School map, the Great Lakes are just above and around the storm drain manhole cover.
When completed, the map will have laminated labels with the names of state capitals, major cities, landmarks and important state products, such as Maryland crabs.
"Teachers will be able to take their classes outside and use the labels and map to teach kids more about geography," said Mr. Fitzhugh. "The kids could even walk the Oregon Trail to see how our pioneers moved westward."
The map was a school-community effort from the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company, which hosed down the parking lot to clean away the dirt and motor oil before the painting began, to the school cafeteria workers, who saved dozens of food cans into which the volunteers could pour their paint.
A $417 grant from the Maryland Geographical Alliance, part of the National Geographic Society, helped pay for the project. The school's Parent-Teacher Association also helped raise money for materials. A student's father, who owns a paint company, donated 8 gallons of paint.
As Mr. Fitzhugh was figuring out just where Alaska and Hawaii should go to make them proportionally distant from the 48 states, he was also thinking about his next geographical conquest -- the world.
"Do they really play much tennis on those courts?" he asked school principal Dena Love. "That would make a great place for the world."