Eagle Scout’s painful memory leads to new U.S. map on school playground

He puts U.S. map on his old school playground.

For area high school senior Vincent Ariss, underperforming in elementary school years ago on a geography test requiring him to label America’s 50 states is still a painful memory.

Ariss, now a Fairfield High School senior at Butler Tech, recently wondered how he could spare today’s elementary students the same frustration.

He then came up with an idea to turn the nation’s map of states into a giant, colorful and fun feature at his former grade school’s playground.

“I remember doing very badly on it,” said Ariss of his geography exam woes.

So as part of his recent Eagle Scout project he raised about $1,200 through individual and business donations to cover the costs of painting a replica of the United States – showing each state labeled with initials – on the blacktop portion of Fairfield North Elementary’s playground.

“I wanted to help all the students who had trouble learning and memorizing all these states,” said Ariss. “I didn’t want any other students to struggle.”

With the help of his parents, fellow Scouts and adult volunteers, he used a purchased stencil kit to outline and paint the states different colors. The painting took parts of four weekends, and the kit also included geography instructional games now being used by teachers at Fairfield North.

The states within the 27-foot by 16-foot map are in proportional size with Alaska and Hawaii each an appropriate distance from the continental U.S.

Principal Denise Hayes said she and the teaching staff appreciate Ariss reaching back to help younger generations of students at the Fairfield Twp. school.

“It’s fantastic!” said Hayes. “He did a great job.”

Gina Gentry-Fletcher, spokeswoman for the 10,000-student district, said “there are many awesome things about this project.”

“What stands out most is how Vincent turned a childhood struggle with a test into a positive and fun experience for students at North. Our older students often give back to their elementary schools to show their pride,” said Gentry-Fletcher.

“It may be something as simple as a classroom visit, serving as a mentor or tutor, or leaving behind something tangible. These actions truly show the role the school played in the student’s character development.”

Ariss, who is studying mechatronics at Butler Tech – a program for learning electrical and mechanical engineering, along with wiring, coding, manufacturing and more – said he stops by the school occasionally to watch the youngsters play and learn on his map.

Standing recently over his playground map – just off the coast of Florida – Ariss said such a fun learning tool would have helped him years ago.

“I think I would have definitely done better in geography if this was here when I was here because I would have been all over this.”

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