Betsabe Aguilar is working on a report about Michigan. She would like our help.

I would like some help, too. But I'll let Betsabe go first.

She's a fifth-grader at Napa Valley Language Academy, a charter school in Napa, California, where classes are conducted in both English and Spanish.

Every year, a teacher there by the fortuitous name of Ann Dearborn has each of her students pick a state to learn about. As part of the project, the kids contact newspapers in hopes of obtaining the sorts of objects that make a report come to life.

Specifically, Betsabe requests that Detroit News readers send her "pamphlets, postcards, souvenirs, or anything else that would be useful" as she puts together an oral presentation, a poster, a PowerPoint and even a float, which sounds like a lot to ask of an 11-year-old but is actually a decorated cardboard carton.

Her address, if you would like to reward her pluck and cajolery, is Napa Valley Language Academy, c/o Ms. Dearborn, 2700 Kilburn Ave., Napa, CA 94558.

I talked to her on the phone Wednesday during recess, and it turns out that what she mostly knows about Michigan so far comes from online photographs and a 6-year-old animated movie.

She is not above flattery, making reference to "your magnificent state" and thanking us for our "help in making me a great researcher of your astounding state."

It struck me as I read her neatly pencil-written letter that we are in fact magnificent and astounding, at least some of the time, and that we tend to forget that.

We don't gaze at Sleeping Bear Dunes or the Grand Haven lighthouse every day. We don't hand-count all the gallons of fresh water in our lakes, or remember to marvel at the ingenuity and effort that go into manufacturing a Buick Enclave.

We do deal with bad roads and ineffective politicians. We endure traffic jams on our way northward to the places Betsabe hopes to admire on postcards.

All too often, we can't see the Hartwick Pines for the trees. But as a child of Mexican immigrants points out from 2,000 miles away, we are — now and then, here and there — astounding.

So here's my question, inspired by Betsabe Aguilar:

What tops your list of the things that make it all worthwhile? If you were explaining to a student what makes Michigan pretty darned special, what would you say?

Kindly drop me an email at Or send a postcard, if you'd like, but those are better off going to Betsabe.

Touting natural resources

Mike Shore's list started with "natural resources not many places on Earth can match," and went on from there to "top-notch universities" and an innate grasp of manufacturing and technology.

He's with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which oversees Travel Michigan and the official tourism website at

He promised to send Betsabe some official Michigan swag, so her report will not go unadorned. But the more props and visual aids she receives, the better, and she seems like a nice young lady.

The middle of three kids, Betsabe is tall for her grade, shy and soft-spoken. She says her dad works for a timber company, her mom stays home, and her interest in Michigan was piqued by the stop-motion 3-D film "Coraline," in which the title character actually leaves Pontiac and relocates to Ashland, Oregon.

Betsabe "doesn't always want to volunteer in class," Ms. Dearborn says, but "she's always very focused. She's a hard worker."

Ohio? We can do better

The academy has an interesting mix of students, Dearborn says, with some from families that run wineries and some from families that work in the vineyards.

The response to the kids' requests have been as varied as the student body. Montana and Wyoming have been washouts. Residents of Washington, Louisiana and Virginia have been particularly generous.

The girl who chose Ohio "has gotten a couple of things," Dearborn says — which means, of course, that Betsabe needs to get more.

Anything Ohio can do, we can do better. OK, except for roads. But sending T-shirts or snow globes or brochures? Supplying insight into our "agriculture, history, economy, famous people and national parks?"

At that, we can be magnificent and astounding.


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