Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"That's a "RAP"...almost

I wish I could say that with finality but the truth is there are two classes that still need to videoconference with their match schools in April. However, 6 of the 8 classes I registered for Read Around the Planet did get to meet and share with their partner schools so I think I can call it a "rap"... almost. The connections so far have been amazing. Our NYC students have met classes from Michigan, Texas, Arizona, Upstate New York and Western Canada. They have videoconferenced with rural communities whose town populations were less than our school's student population. They have met students whose afternoon chores were rounding up cattle. They have seen just how different their lifestyles can be but they have also learned how much they have in common. They have been introduced to new books and reading activities. They have also shared their stories and projects. All in all it has been as it always is, incredible. A glimpse into the lives of other kids whose geographic locations they have only seen on maps. Those moments when you realize how important these connections are for learning a little bit more about our world. Students have had penpals for generations but seeing and talking to your videopal in real time is really special. The challenge is can this wonderful connection continue beyond this videoconference. Usually the videoconference ends with the classes vowing to keep in touch but the truth is these "Read Around" conferences are usually a beginning and end unto themselves.

Except in the case of the Mary McGuire Elementary School in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Their 5th/6th grade class videoconferenced with a 6th grade class at our BELL Academy. The students had a wonderful time. The students at BELL put on a skit about Harriet Tubman. The Michigan students shared a story. They learned a little about each other's respective school and community. Shared their goodbyes and it was over or so we thought. A few weeks later two big boxes arrived from the school. Accompanied by a letter from the teacher Buck Buchanan telling the students at BELL how excited his students were for being a part of their school year. The boxes were full of things donated by the Saginaw Chippewa Nation and a beautiful scrapbook of the Mt. Pleasant Community which Mr. Buchanan called "small rural but friendly". The class at BELL is already working on their scrapbook for their friends at Mary McGuire. I think this Read Around the Planet VC has some "legs". Making a connection is one thing ... keeping connected is another.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Do You Know Someone Famous?

Do you know someone famous? This was the first question asked two days in a row as our NYC classes participated in this year's Read Around the Planet. It just intrigues me how students from other states view our students lives. The truth is our brush with greatness is far and few between but we won't let the out of towners know that. So, our students rattle off the names of famous graduates from our school. The likes of Lucy Liu, John Legugamos, Adrian Brody and so on. This year 8 classes from two of the schools where I work are videoconferencing in Read Around the Planet programs with classes in Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Upstate New York and Canada. So far five videoconferences have taken place and each one has been an amazing and rewarding experience for our students.

Each videoconference begins with some kind of literacy exchange. Two of our 6th grade classes are reading The House on Mango Street which is a collection of vignettes. Our students wrote some vignettes of their own. Some poignant snapshots of their own homes and lives. Others more humorous as they capture hot school topics like school lunch, detention and what to do during recess. Another class perfomed a skit bases on a chapter out of a book about Harriet Tubman. The skit was complete with costumes and scenery. Our partner schools also share their literary experiences. But the literacy exchange is just a warm up for what is to come...questions and answers. This is when the real fun begins. The students learn about what's different about their lives and how much they have in common. There are always the moans and groans when one class learns there day is longer, their weather is colder and their recess is shorter. The NYC teachers groan when they learn the class size of the schools in Texas. But for the most part there is just a real comradery amongst the classes.
Our videoconference with Paris, Texas was just great. Some of the boys in the Texas class were wearing cowboy hats which definitely made an impression on our city slickers. The conference with Coloma, Michigan unveiled that the population of their town of around 1500 was less than our student population of 2000. The contrasts are striking but so are the similarities. They like the same kinds of music, dances and sports. These videoconferences always end in the same way. The students always want to become penpals or in our case videoconferencingpals. A connection has been made.