Hilton Head Island Elementary students travel around the world without leaving the classroom

Students at Hilton Head Island Elementary School are filling up their passports without even leaving Beaufort County.

The school's Passport Club gives kids a chance to strengthen their geography skills in a fun way. At the beginning of the school year any child who wishes to participate is issued a passport. As the students learn about the different continents and countries, they fill up their passports with postage stamps from around the world.

"This provides such an interesting way, a competitive way to challenge themselves," said Vera Yancey, the school's media specialist.

She said there are five levels of the program, ranging from introductory to "Geo-Whiz."

Students get to pick where they want to begin.

If they start at level one, they must learn all seven continents and 40 countries by the end of the year.

If they choose the fifth level, they will have to learn all of the world's countries, continents, oceans, seas, deserts, mountain ranges and 40 capital cities.

They'll also have to complete at least 10 geography projects.

Volunteers check the students' progress at the end of each month.

If they meet all the requirements, they receive a new postage stamp.

She said about 760 children -- the majority of the school's students -- are participating in the program that is open to first through fifth grades.

"I am just absolutely blown away," Yancey said. "I was not sure how first grade would handle it."

But she said the students are doing a phenomenal job learning their geography.

A teacher in Olympia, Wash., started the club in 1994. Now the program is offered in schools across the nation.

Yancey said she learned about the program when she was in Washington and decided to introduce the club to the Hilton Head school when she began working there. She launched the club in September.

Third-grader Jackson Hoffman has gotten so good at geography that he tutors other students in the subject twice a week.

His favorite places are Germany and Great Britain because his dad is from Germany and his mom grew up in Great Britain.

Jackson plans to visit Mexico this summer, and next summer he's going to Europe.

"It's pretty fun," Jackson said. "You know everywhere to go. I always tell my mom that I want to explore the world with her."