- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

One child worked in the fields. Another couldn't go to school because of a disability. Still another had to stay home and mind younger siblings.

These are some of the vicarious experiences of Jefferson Junior High School seventh-graders, who participated in a role-playing game about children in other countries to gain a better appreciation of the freedoms and opportunities they have in the United States.

"I learned how kids there can't always go to school and don't have much," said Brandi Payne, 12, who attends the school at Eighth and H streets Southwest. "Sometimes I get mad that I don't always get what I want, but now I appreciate what I have."

The pilot project started by a New York-based nonprofit called NetAid involves a game, which gives the name and picture of a child living in the Tamil Nadu region of India. The game works this way: a classroom is divided into two sides, one for children who go to school and one for children who don't. Each child gets a card with one of eight categories representing the life circumstances of the featured child: "Mother takes care of home; father works in government; older sister; money; shoes; bus ticket, teacher."

The card also details the child's dream job for example to be a teacher and work with children and shows how many years of education is necessary to reach that goal.

Students spin the large game wheel and the pointer stops on one of many segments chance events that could aid or impede children's schooling: "Father loses job; donation of books; teacher falls sick with the AIDS virus."

"I love it," said teacher Anne Miller, who tried the game in her class Wednesday. "It allows them to learn about different cultures. It makes them appreciate what they have. It opens these children's eyes."

She smiled, recalling that her eighth-graders "are angry and want to know why they can't play the game."

Each spin of the wheel decides whether a child is able to continue in school to collect school years, the goal being to collect enough to get the "dream job."

"There are boys and girls in other countries that don't get to go to school," Ms. Miller told her students when introducing the game, asking "Why is that?"

"They don't think it is fun," one child said.

"They don't have any money," another answered.

"They think they know it all," another called out.

The teacher then asked, "What do you think would happen to you if you didn't get to go to school?"

"I wouldn't have a very good future," came the answer.

Then the children settled into playing the game. Hands shot up to volunteer to spin the wheel. Children groaned as a spin tossed them out of school. Others whispered excitedly to their classmates about their chances to win.

In the end, one attained the dream job, and half the class remained in school.

NetAid, which works to eradicate extreme poverty, developed the game to help inform children about the situations faced by children around the world and how they can help.

The game is billed as the "real life game millions of kids can't play," and through it, NetAid officials say, the link between education and opportunity is reinforced.

The students said they had fun playing the game but felt sad afterward.

"It was bad; I didn't get any years in school; I don't have a father; my hands hurt from working in the fields," said Lamont Gray, 12.

"I can't explain. … It made me feel hopeless, sad and grateful."

Monet Pringle,12, said "I now understand what the children are going through. I want to donate everything I have."

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