Cheney Free Press -



Passport helps students keep up with the changing world

Parents, volunteers, teachers and staff unite to help Betz Elementary students learn about far off places


John McCallum

A parent-volunteer reviews a Betz student's geographic knowledge for The Passport Club.

Next time you run into a student from Cheney's Betz Elementary School, ask them what level they are in the Passport Club? If they're a "Geo Whiz," they should respond by naming all 195 countries in the world.

If they can't do it off the top of their head, they have got a small, blue book to prove that they know them.

The Passport Club was started by Betz parent-volunteer Daiatra Westlund. Westlund got involved in the program when her family lived in Olympia, which is where former elementary school teacher and parent-volunteer Lynn Erickson created the program in 1994.

According to a Jan. 14, 2003 article in The Olympian, Erickson started the Passport Club because she was concerned about teachers' and students' abilities to keep up with rapidly changing world geography. The program has grown and is now being used in schools throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho, as well as 15 other states and seven foreign countries.

Westlund "fell in love with the program" as a volunteer checker for her oldest son, who was in kindergarten. When the family moved to Cheney there was nothing similar. With the help of Betz principal Carol Mahoney she got the club up and running.

The Passport Club begins by issuing each student a passport at the start of the school year. They have five different levels to choose from, ranging from introductory level one, where they learn 40 countries to level five - Geo Whiz - where they learn all 195 countries as well as 40 foreign capitals, continents, oceans, seas and other geographic features.

To learn this, they also receive current world maps and other materials which to study.

"They get the materials at school," Westlund said. "Some may do a 'buddy study' at school, but most of it is done at home."

Once a month the students will come to Betz's multipurpose room, The Viking Room, by class where they are tested on what they learned by a group of 10 parent/grandparent volunteers, some taking time off from work to help.

Westlund said they review a class every eight minutes, taking about two and a half hours to check the entire school of 350 or so students.

After the students identify the countries and answer questions they receive colorful postage stamps from those countries, some of which are actual canceled stamps. Westlund said many of the volunteers spend hours cutting out the stamps for the students' books.

Westlund and other school officials all say The Passport Club has proven to be a popular experience for the students as well as parents and teachers. There are usually 6-7 students passing level five each month, with many classrooms achieving high passing percentages on their own geography learning targets.

"I learned where Cambodia is," Betz student Tess King said. "And that's important because now we're doing a country study of it in class."

King and her other four Geo Whiz partners, Phoenix White, Moriah Hallin, Riggs Westlund and Isaac Hubel, all agreed that part of the fun of The Passport Club was the challenge in learning about other places in the world. Hallin said the program has also taught her how to balance practicing and studying with other activities.

"Our schedule is tight in the evenings," she said.

Daiatra Westlund said students receive new and review materials each year as they progress through the program.

"Each country and region in the world has so much to teach us," she wrote in a press release. "But it all begins with the learning of a name. From there, the sky's the limit."

John McCallum can be reached at


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