- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

REHOBOTH, Mass. (AP) - Seventh-graders at Beckwith Middle School are getting a unique lesson in international relations and the global community.

Fifty-five students in English teacher Melissa Bilentschuk’s class are participating in a cultural exchange program with students at the New Millennium School, a kindergarten through grade 12 private school located 40 minutes outside Kathmandu, Nepal.

Bilentschuk came up with the idea after Superintendent Anthony Azar challenged the staff to develop innovative ways to enrich students’ educational experience this year.

A close friend of Bilentschuk’s, Carmel Valianti, has friends in Nepal and asked the teacher if she had any books to donate to the New Millennium School. Valianti’s daughter, Maya Smith, a recent graduate of Ipswich High School, is taking part in an educational and cultural exchange program in Nepal.

“She (Smith) is my contact with the kids. That’s how we are collaborating and sending information back and forth,” Bilentschuk said.

Beckwith Principal Joe Pirraglia endorsed the project, and Bilentschuk and Smith helped match each Beckwith student with a student at the New Millennium School. Now they are communicating back and forth through social media.

The students plan to share information about their culture, traditions and holiday celebrations with their new friends across the world. “They are very excited about it. We are having a lot of fun so far,” Bilentschuk said.

Bilentschuk’s students created “selfie” likenesses of themselves out of 16-inch cutouts and wrote on the back about their favorite things, such as food, music and sports, and sent them to Nepal.

Valianti recently returned from Nepal and brought back similar “selfies” made by the students there. The Nepalese students also sent flags for the boys and purses and bindi stickers for the girls. Bindis are decorative marks that women wear on their foreheads.

The students quickly learned that they have the same interests as the students in Nepal. “One of the kids said, ‘Even though they are 7,000 miles away, they like the same things we like!’” Bilentschuk said.

Some of their similar likes are pizza, music and video games. “I think it helps them understand the global community and to understand that even in our differences, we are very much alike,” Bilentschuk said.

The students will be discussing global environmental issues and Christmas traditions next.

They hope to Skype with the students in Nepal at some point. The nine-hour time difference presents a challenge, but it’s likely Bilentschuk and her students will find a way to make it happen.

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Information from: The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle, https://www.thesunchronicle.com


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