Virtual pen-pal program connects local students to Africa - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Virtual pen-pal program connects local students to Africa

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Technology initiatives at Doby's Mill Elementary School in Elgin has taken a pen-pal program to a whole another level.  

Take a step inside Ms. McCall's fifth grade class and you'll find their learning face-to-face with fifth grade students in Africa.

"I can't even explain it because it's so awesome," said Autumn Price one of the fifth graders in the class. She and her classmates thought exchanging hand-written letters with students in Burkina Faso, Ougadougou, Africa was cool, but they say getting to see them virtually through Skype is the coolest.

"We have maps of the world around the room, they have maps at their desk…but to actually have a personal connection with a student across the ocean, it's powerful," said Angela McCall, their fifth grade teacher.

Doby's Mill's Media Specialist Betsy Long has made the program possible. She began the Skyping pen-pal program three years ago after her college roommate became the principal at an international school in Burkina Faso. "It's preparing them for their future because our world is only going to continue to open up this way through technology," said Long. "In the future these guys will be interacting with people all over the world through their work and their personal lives."

For the first time ever, the students are also getting to interact with their pen-pals through a secure Internet chat called Edmodo. "It's a secure Facebook for students basically, but all the teachers, all the educators involved get copies of everything that is sent," said Long. The interactive website lets students talk further about what they're learning in the classroom. 

Right now, students are focusing on putting an end to bullying in their communities. They just read the book ‘Wonder,' and each class put together projects to describe ways that could help stop bullying. "Everyone that bullies thinks that they feel good about themselves, when the people that they pick on are not always that feeling well [because of the bullying]," said 5th grader Price."That happens almost everywhere in the world," she added. Their pen-pal program has allowed them to personally learn that from the international students. The students in both classes signed pledges encouraged by the author of ‘Wonder' to ‘Choose Kind' and end bullying.

The fifth graders will get to interact for the rest of the school year, making classrooms that are separated by an ocean just a click away.

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