COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Linda Bozoian's fourth-grade class at New Haven Elementary School took a break this month from standardized tests to put their names or initials on a bright yellow dugout canoe.
The 12-inch craft will sail with a flotilla of some 120 similar dugouts along the Missouri River on April 24, part of the Great Canoe Race of 2004.
"Fourth-graders study Missouri history, and as you know, this is an anniversary year for the Lewis and Clark expedition, and it's also something that's unique that involved the community," Bozoian said.
The race is sponsored by the River Valley Development Committee, a not-for-profit dedicated to bringing attention to the "Missouri Corridor" -- the 14 counties on either side of the Big Muddy between Brunswick in Chariton County and Augusta in St. Charles County.
Jack Ryan, chairman of the River Valley committee, said the objective is to focus on "the historic nature of corridor, the singing beauty of the river and historic areas. We want to use those features to improve the culture and economic features of the corridor."
Fourth- and fifth-grade classes in 44 schools are participating, including Lange Middle School and Rock Bridge, Two Mile Prairie, Ridgeway and Midway Heights elementary schools as well as the Columbia Public Schools' Center for Gifted Education.
Members of Ryan's group will launch the dugouts at the mouth of the Grand River, near Brunswick.
190 miles away
Two or three days later, Ryan said, the fleet is expected to reach Augusta, 190 miles downstream. No prize has been determined for the winning entry.
"We may try to arrange some kind of little event for the school, but that hasn't been really ironed out yet," Ryan said.
Each dugout features a recess that holds a waterproof film container, where the schoolchildren can place identifying information. All dugouts that are recovered from the river will be returned.
Ryan's group has sought to make a connection with the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806 by including a story written by River Valley committee member David Menke, a former teacher from St. Charles.
Set in 1821, Menke's story tells of a father and his 12-year-old son who use a dugout canoe on the Missouri to trade furs.
"It is sort of a follow-up to the Lewis and Clark episode, if you will," Ryan said.
The River Valley committee solicited every school in the riverside counties by e-mail or telephone to participate.
Bozoian said she heard about the event from another teacher at her school. Bozoian's is one of two New Haven classes that are participating.
One of Bozoian's students, McKenzie Johnson, 9, said she enjoyed putting her initials on the dugout canoe in her favorite color -- blue.
It's exciting "to know that it's going down the Missouri River," she said.
Classmate Sam Chipan, 10, enjoyed the activity for a different reason. "We don't normally get to decorate many things in here."
Bozoian said her class might add a sail and a toy person to the craft.
"We're just hoping somebody finds it and contacts us," she said.