Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kindergartners learn ‘global awareness’

Students Skype with kids in Costa Rica and India

Express Staff Writer

Nearly 100 students and parents at Bellevue Elementary School await a telephone connection with a school in India for a Skype video-conferencing session last November. Courtesy photos by Jacquelyn Jones

Kindergarten students at Bellevue Elementary School are learning global awareness by teleconferencing with kids in Costa Rica and India.

Using Skype, a program that allows live video and audio Internet teleconferencing, the Bellevue students are now able to share lessons with their counterparts in San Juanillo, Costa Rica, and Calicut, India.

The program was started last school year by Bellevue Elementary Dual Immersion teacher Jacquelyn Jones. In Dual Immersion, students are instructed half in English and half in Spanish. The program allows English-speaking students to learn Spanish and Spanish-speaking students to learn English.

Jones said she started the Creciendo Juntos program to give her students a motivation for learning a new language. "Creciendo Juntos" means "Growing Together."

The program was started last year with Centro Educativo San Juanillo school, located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and expanded this year to Dayapuram School in India.

Jones said she started in Costa Rica because of her familiarity of and fondness for the country. Bilingual herself, she taught school in Costa Rica for 20 years before moving to Blaine County 10 years ago.

"I go there every summer," she said. "My husband is Costa Rican and my children were raised there."

The program got under way once Jones had established a partnership with faculty at Centro Educativo San Juanillo, which is small by Blaine County standards, having only three classrooms and about 60 students, age 4 through sixth grade.

The Bellevue students started the relationship by holding a fundraiser to buy books for their Costa Rican counterparts and by sending the students in Costa Rica letters and gifts. The Costa Rican students sent letters and gifts back and the relationship was under way.

Jones said Skyping seemed like the next logical step, but the Costa Rican students didn't even have computers. She said she was able to get two computers donated to the school, along with an Internet connection with Skyping capability, by working with the Costa Rican Ministry of Education.

Skyping allows the students to be together in a virtual setting to share lessons and experiences with each other.

In addition to helping with language skills, Jones said, the Creciendo Juntos program gives students a greater appreciation for other languages and cultures.

"Global awareness is a huge part of it," she said. "They learn their place in the world, that this is a humongous world filled with families that are different but equal to me. This is what our children need to learn to be successful in the 21st century."

Jones said the students are also learning about technology, especially the vagaries of the Internet. Sometimes when it's cloudy or rainy in Costa Rica or India, the students lose their Internet connection or can only get audio.

The partnership with the school in India started this school year and the Bellevue students held their first Skyping session on Nov. 11. Because of an 11-and-a-half-hour time difference between India and Idaho, the students at Dayapuram School started the session at 8 a.m. while the students in Bellevue had to come to school in the evening to start the session at 7:30 p.m.

Jones said nearly all the students, along with their parents, attended.

"I have 45 students and 38 of them came that night," she said. "I had 100 people there and you could have heard a pin drop while they were waiting for the phone."

Terry Smith:

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