Before a team of local physicians and other medical professionals got down to the business of performing 76 knee-replacement surgeries on a trip to Guatemala, they took some time to connect a local school with one in that nation.
Dr. Robyn Hakanson, a founding surgeon of Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach, contacted Millennium Charter Academy (MCA) before the group’s scheduled trip to Guatemala to see if students there were interested in working with a girls school in Antigua. The outreach had established a connection with a school in Guatemala and wanted to extend that connection to a similar peer group in the United States. Pam Braley, dean of middle school students and academics at the academy, suggested sixth grade would be a good partner group for a pen pal-type project.
Once the outreach team arrived in Guatemala late Thursday night, they worked to set up Web cams, laptops and an Internet connection, paid for or collected by the outreach surgeons, so the students from the two schools could Skype with each other Friday morning.
The students from Guatemala and sixth graders from MCA saw each other for the first time on Friday via the live video chat feed.
“The teachers there sent an initial letter that indicated they’re excited about this. They want to know things like culture — what do students here eat, what do they do, what do they study, what do they wear, as well as regional culture information about Mount Airy,” said Ann Moore, sixth grade language arts teacher.
During Friday’s session, several MCA students had the chance to ask questions of the Guatemalan students as well as answer questions of their own. The students on both sides were curious about hobbies and sports as well as the subjects they take in school. Many of the answers were similar for both sides as the Guatemalan students shared that they enjoyed futbol, volleyball and basketball, the same sports many of the MCA students play. The Guatemalan students also shared that in school they learn “mucho Inglés.”
MCA students will be mailing a small stuffed lion, which is the school’s mascot, as well as some disposable cameras to the girls school in Guatemala, asking them to take pictures of their region to send back to students at MCA. The package will also include letters from the students which have been translated into Spanish.
“I thought it was really cool. This is something you don’t do much. We actually got to talk to people and hear what they had to say,” said Monica Burciu, a sixth grader at MCA.
“It was cooler than just having a normal class,” added Cooper Nester.
Moore and Matt Elder, sixth grade history teacher at the school, hope this experience is one that will stick with the students and one they will be able to repeat soon. Part of the sixth grade history curriculum focuses on Latin America so Elder saw this as a great opportunity to bring that unit to life.
“I think it’s one of those things where normally we do a unit on Latin America and they’re learning from a book. This gives them real visions of what Latin America is like. Instead of seeing images on Google or hearing sound bites from videos, they’re seeing and hearing first-hand. They can have a real feel of the community and see what real life is like,” said Elder.
In addition to talking with a group of girls at the school, the MCA students were also able to watch a program the school put on for the visiting medical team. The program featured regional songs and dances including traditional costumes which allowed the MCA students to see some of the Guatemalan customs.
“They like to sing and dance and do arts,” said Burciu. “They have happy spirits.”
“It seems like they have fun a lot,” added Nester.
The Skype experience was the first time the students in Guatemala had Internet access at the school and the first time many of the students used the Internet at all. In addition to funding a technology teacher for the school, the outreach group collected donations of jerseys and soccer and basketball goals to donate to the school. The team will remain in Guatemala for a week.
Contact Morgan Wall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.