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Wakefield students make long-distance connection

Tuesday, Jan. 29 | By Alisa Booze Troetschel
Lorenzo Solari shows the Indian students an art project. --Photo by Adam Goings

Exuberance broke out Sunday night after the camera switched off. Thirty-six fifth-graders and seven adults jumped up and down and waved their arms above their heads.

Joel Enoch extended his right arm and said, "You guys are great."

Enoch teaches at Wakefield School in The Plains where his class had just concluded a 45-minute online video conference with the Deepalaya School for Girls in New Delhi, India.

"I just imagined all the 1,000 things that could go wrong," Enoch said. The event did have a few glitches, losing the connection three times.

About four years ago, Enoch's fifth grade began to raise money to help send girls to the school in India.

Working through the Robert Duvall Children's Fund, they support the school by reading (their parents pay them by the hour), holding bake sales, and giving a dollar to wear pajamas on PJammin' Day to school.

So far in this school year, the children have collected $2,800, and according to Enoch, will have collected $3,000 by the end of the school year.

The girls in India -- daughters of sweepers and cleaners -- live in poverty, Enoch said.

Educating daughters is typically not a priority for families. It is quite an accomplishment for a girl to achieve an eighth-grade education, said Enoch.

The Deepalaya School secures permission from the girls' fathers for them to attend class.

Without going to school, the girls will most likely marry at an early age.

"It's about helping the less fortunate," said Enoch. "It's about the transformative power of education." The experience gave his students the opportunity to learn about equal rights for women.

The fifth-graders had exchanged letters and cards with the Indian students. But for the first time, they saw and heard each other. Every pair of eyes was on the picture.

"I don't think they really thought they were going to see this," said Cyndi Williams, a fifth-grade math teacher.

"When I saw these kids, [I thought] 'Wow, these children are real,'" said Enoch.

The Indian girls sang, in English, "500 Miles" and "If You're Happy and You Know It."

Sofi Sowden, 11, was surprised. "I thought it would be more nonverbal communication," she said. "I did not know they knew English at all."

"They took the time and effort to learn English songs," said Alexandra Parra, 10.

"It would take me years to learn Indian," said Max Schaefer, 11.

With the Indian students starting off, each school presented a series of skits showing their school uniforms, artwork, and what they studied.

Also, the Wakefield crew showed sport after sport they enjoyed playing, from hockey to horseback riding.

Max wore his hockey uniform and carried his stick and puck. He demonstrated swings and passes for his Indian audience.

"You cannot mess this up," Max said to himself. He and the others had practiced several times. Even so, he made up new lines while he was in front of the camera.

Both classes enthusiastically clapped for each other to the point that a celebrity might be envious.

The Wakefield students also held up signs that read, "YAY," "COOL," "WOW," and "NICE."

Wakefield ended their presentation by singing "When You Wish Upon A Star." Then both schools clapped for each other.

In spite of their poverty, they are trying to go to school, said Max. He admired the talents and skills of the Indian students.

"These kids do a lot of traveling," said Enoch. "They see a four-star tour of a country. Tonight they saw a slice of life in another world that they won't be a part of."

"No matter when you are in different places, you can still have a communication with people who don't speak your language," said Alexandra.

Even though they are thousands of miles apart and speak different languages, we have school in common, said Sofi. "It doesn't matter where we're from, we're all the same."

"You work your butt off," said Enoch, using books and homework, but the message doesn't get through. But seeing and hearing their counterparts in India made the connection for the American students.

And the experience knitted them to each other as well.

In the moments after the exchange ended, they were like family, said Enoch.
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