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Castle Heights cartographers put themselves on the map

Melissa Blackburn (in Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota) and Diana Wood (in Montana and Idaho) paint state borders on the massive United States map at Castle Heights Elementary. The two have 'toured' all 50 states in two days.

Sun Advocate Reporter

Teacher Diana Wood and her daughter, Melissa Blackburn, did some traveling this week. "We've been in all 50 states in the last 15 hours," laughed Ms. Wood.

They didn't go supersonic, though. They were busy tracing and painting a giant map of the United States, transforming a barren patch of asphalt into a colorful teaching aid on the east side of Castle Heights Elementary School in Price. The map, sprawling over about half the square footage of a basketball court, covers an area left vacant when the school moved a mobile classroom off the site.

Ms. Blackburn, who substitute teaches at Castle Heights and is PTA president, got the idea. Her son, Dyson, is a fifth-grader at the school and one of his subjects is American history. So she began looking at the blank expanse of pavement the way an artist might look at a bare canvas. Something should fill the emptiness. How about a map?

She told her idea to Principal Jan Cox, who thought the project was worth doing - and worth supplying with paint and tools. Custodian Arlen Leonard found a template of the U.S. map that could be traced in connect-the-dots fashion. Then, to clear the "canvas" for the artists, Ms. Blackburn's husband, Kraig, brought in a power washer and cleaned away the grit and oil spots.

Mother and daughter started painting after breakfast Monday and worked until dinner. They were back on the job finishing up Tuesday morning.

Although it is eye-catching, the point of the map is not decoration. Ms. Wood said it has possibilities for a whole range of subjects: history, geography and science for example. A kid could learn to navigate with a compass on this map.

The paint job is in six brilliant colors and the paint is the same stuff used to mark highways, Ms. Wood said, so it should last awhile. The volunteer painters chose to color the states by region:west, north central, south central, southeast and northeast. Each state is broadly outlined in white. (That's not easy in Rhode Island. Even on a map this big, it is pretty small.)

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