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Nov 1, 2016 5:28 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Software Helps Forge New Friendships Half A World Away

Raynor fourth graders have been paired with students in Africa about life on another continent. COURTESY RAYNOR COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL
Nov 2, 2016 9:25 AM

Immediately after being introduced to their future pen pals for the first time, fourth-graders at the Raynor Country Day School were happy to hear about all the things they have in common with their counterparts living halfway around the world: homework, pets and sports. But most of those who attend the private Speonk school were surprised to learn just how different life can be in other parts of the world, explaining that their new friends at the Cheery Children’s Education Centre—located in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi, Kenya—must walk miles every day just to access clean water and often live in homes made out of mud.

“Sometimes, we might be like, ‘I wish something was better,’” said fourth-grader Camdyn Glover. “But we can’t really say that because looking at them and seeing what they have, you can see that life can be way worse than it is right now.”

The two classrooms were paired up using a program called Buncee, a presentation tool for students and educators to create interactive classroom content. It was developed by Marie Arturi, who lives in nearby Remsenburg, and her daughter, Francesca Arturi, a Raynor Country Day School alumna.

This is the second time that Buncee has worked to connect students around the world, though it marked the first time Raynor Country has participated through an initiative called “Buncee Buddies.” Participating students are not told where their partner school is located ahead of time; instead, they are encouraged to create slides that provide hints and clues for their counterparts so students on both ends of the communication can learn as much as possible about the other. This year, Buncee, which is based in Calverton, has connected 145 schools worldwide.

After spending several weeks learning about the program and designing their presentation, Raynor Country students were finally able to host their “mystery Skype” session on Thursday, October 27. They were also able to study clues given to them about their sister school before finally being introduced to students from the Cheery Children’s Education Centre.

“Our theme this year with Buncee is ‘world peace,’ and I have noticed that they don’t have a lot of things that we do have,” said Alexandra Behmoiram, another fourth-grader. “I think that we should try to focus on world peace for them instead of us.”

When creating their presentation for their Kenyan counterparts, the Raynor Country students followed a specific game plan. First, they provided clues about their country, including the names of bordering nations and oceans. Next, they attempted to narrow the search by providing the other students with state landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty and Lake George, before moving on to some more local descriptions of Southampton Town.

“We did some research on the other students and found out a little bit about them,” fourth grade teacher Laurie Ardito said. “I think our students were really surprised about some of the things we saw and learned when we were able to do the Skype interview, and they were able to see and speak to the students. It affected them.”

For most of their discussion, students focused on a quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi—“Be the change you want to see in the world”—and how it could be applied to both them and their new friends in Kenya.

“You shouldn’t just sit back and wait for other people to do something,” added Camdyn. “You should do it so you’re the one bringing change.”

The recent Skype session was just the first interaction between the two fourth grade classes. Later this semester, the Raynor Country students will be paired off with those in Kenya so they can become pen pals and send each other letters about their lives both in and out of the classroom.

“They have a lot of similar things to us, like playing sports,” student Nick Peragine said. “But then they also have to walk for miles to fetch water for their families. It’s different.”

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