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Roosevelt school students make digital friends in England

Roosevelt School teacher Jean Kulnig arranged for her fourth-grade class to chat live with students in England Nov. 15.  |  Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media
Roosevelt School fourth-graders pause from a Skype session with their peers in England to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  |  Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media
Roosevelt School fourth grader Elizabeth Pisani video chats with students in England Nov. 15.  |  Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media
Roosevelt School fourth-grader Jacob Koziol video chats with students in England Nov. 15.  |  Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media
Fourth graders at Roosevelt School in Park Ridge wave flags during a Skype session with students in England Nov. 15.  |  Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media
Fourth graders at Roosevelt School in Park Ridge are using technology to communicate with students in England.  |  Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media

Fourth-graders at Roosevelt Elementary School were chit-chatting on a recent Friday morning when the computer in their classroom began beeping.

The students quieted down.

Their teacher, Jean Kulnig, clicked a few buttons.

A live video feed from England then popped onto a whiteboard. Staring back were students roughly 3,985 miles away.

Excitement instantly filled both rooms.

“Hallo!” “Cheerio!” the children in Park Ridge called out to their peers, while waving English and American flags.

“We hope this is the beginning of a good friendship,” Kulnig greeted.

She coordinated the Nov. 15 video chat with St. Katherine’s Primary School in Canvey Island, located along England’s southeast coast.

The transatlantic relationship started last spring when Kulnig arranged a student Skype session through family friends.

“I really feel so strongly about culture and connecting,” she said. “It is such a small, tiny world with all the media and technology we have now, so let’s use it.”

During the video chat, students took turns presenting about their respective schools and experiences growing up in the United States and England.

English students relayed that they wear uniforms to school, play cricket in P.E., and are currently learning the history of Henry VIII and the Tudors. Instead of Spanish, they take German as a second language.

The cross-cultural exchange also revealed what the kids have in common; for instance, both English and American fourth-graders study electricity in science.

And similar to Roosevelt, St. Katherine’s is situated outside of a major city — London — and near an airport.

A brief Q&A followed the presentations. Roosevelt students inquired about the height of Big Ben (which is 96 meters, or 316 feet, tall).

Through the children’s eyes, the most pressing question of all was obvious.

“How much homework do you get?” each of the classes asked the other.

The English fourth-graders reported getting homework in math on Tuesdays, and in English on Fridays.

Hearing their American counterparts receive extra assignments daily made their jaws drop.

The conversation won’t stop there. In the coming weeks, Kulnig and her colleague in England expect to pair students together as “pen pals.”

Will they actually send stamped letters?

“No, no, no,” Kulnig said. “Not in today’s environment.”

Rather, students are likely to exchange messages online through a secure website.

Kulnig said using technology to break down geographical barriers not only stirs curiosity, but prepares children for an increasingly-globalized world.

“In the States we tend to become so provincial,” she said. “We need to be internationally-minded now. We have to respect and be aware of culture.”

It’s the manner in which she has raised her own children. Family trips to her husband’s homeland of Austria undoubtedly made an impression, as her adult son resides in England and her daughter is fluent in German.

Now, students in Kulnig’s class are on the verge of catching the travel bug.

Ten-year-old Jacob Koziol, who sported a British flag tee for the video chat, has an aunt in England.

“I want to go there,” he said. “I want to see the Ferris wheel.”

He added: “It’s also really cool that they [use] Celsius.”

Lukas Nielson, 9, is ready to pack his bags for another reason.

“It’s like you never get homework,” he said. “I want to live there.”

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