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HUDSON -- If it takes a village to raise a child, two schools in separate villages across the world from each other are certainly doing their part to raise, teach and learn from their children.
Hudson Middle School and Orkeeswa School in Tanzania are in the second year of an academic partnership, which began after two sixth-grade students visited the African country with their grandparents in 2015.
After the visit, Hudson Middle School language arts teachers, Beth Killeen and Carla Sweitzer, developed an academic collaboration plan between the schools to help teach each other about the different cultures and learning.
Last year 100 Hudson sixth-grade students wrote the first half of 23 stories about a variety of global and social issues, according to Killeen. The stories were taken to the Tanzanian students by another teacher.
Just about 75 Orkeeswa School students completed the stories. The teacher brought the completed stories, along with letters and answers to a number of questions that the Hudson students asked of their Tanzania co-authors, back to the middle school students.
"We now have 23 International Partnership Stories completed by children in two countries," according to Killeen. "The Hudson students are now studying the Maasai as their culture on inquiry and planning additional follow up activities with students at the school."
According to Killeen the writing project will impact 195 students, including 120 students from Hudson Middle School and 80 students from Orkeeswa with cultural and educational benefits.
"In our classroom, we taught the story structure based on a plot diagram through the partnership story writing which aligns with our state's Common Core Standards," Killeen said. "Students learned the structure of a narrative by identifying the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution as well as the theme and character development."
The Hudson students modeled these skills for the Orkeeswa students through the stories, Killeen said.
"This past year the Orkeeswa School was adopted by the Hudson School District and city. For the past two years, the HMS Student Council led by guidance counselor, Monica Streby, held a school-wide fundraiser called Change for Orkeeswa in which we raised over $6,000 to fund two scholarships," according to Killeen. "These scholarships allowed one female Maasai student to attend Orkeeswa for two years in hopes of receiving an education to become a leader in her community."
The goal of the Internationally Cooperative Story Writing project is to create a cross-cultural understanding for students to enhance their cultural and geographical awareness, according to Killeen. The students will explore social, economic, environmental, and global questions of the 21st century. They will be able to engage their imagination, communication and collaboration in group problem solving, both within their own classroom and with an international classroom, she said.
The collaboration has included a variety of forms including story writing, letter writing, art projects, video collaborations, professional development for teachers and fundraising efforts.
"This is a way to actually meet with students across the world and have dialogue and share stories and community that I don't think you get in a normal curriculum,"according to Peter Luis, who founded Orkeeswa School in 2008. "This is a little more involved and will open up some thing in a more meaningful way to both their students and parents. It's an opportunity to engage in a different way."
In 2016 the city supported the collaboration between the schools in the form of a proclamation.
"The long-term goal is to really have learning on both sides," Luis said. "We want to try to build a community where the Hudson students and families are learning and the Orkeeswa School community and villages are learning as well."
Though the project began with a story telling collaboration between the schools, it has grown into a full-fledged learning tool and stories have been published in a collaboration, Luis said.
Orkeeswa School is located in a rural Maasai community in the Monduli Hills of northern Tanzania. It provides free education within the village for students in sixth through 12th grades.
The Tanzanian students are helping teach the middle school students in Hudson about their culture as well as issues and challenges that might affect the African students.
"They also give the Hudson students a different look on what it means to go to school," Luis said. "We don't take going to school for granted in Tanzania. Kids are really self motivated over there."
Kileen agrees with Luis about the program.
"The students love getting the stories back once they are complete. They are able to learn about true cultural differences in the stories," Killeen said. "Our students might write a story about a child getting bullied in a middle school environment and when the Orkeeswa student finishes the story they might write about how the girl being bullied ended up leaving school because of an arranged marriage.This the reality of an Orkeeswa student. They also loved researching about their culture and learning about the students of Orkeeswa School."
Sweitzer and Killeen hope to continue the program and one day visit the school, Killeen said.
"We hope to continue this initiative with the Orkeeswa School in Tanzania, not only integrating our language arts curriculum through research-based, project-based learning and story writing but also science, social studies and math," Killeen said. "Finally, as soon as the Orkeeswa School has the technology needed to Skype, we will be able to enhance our students international friendships."
The Hudson Middle School teachers hope the students learn there are more similarities than differences between the two cultures, Killeen said.
"Even though they live 10,000 miles away, they are no different than us. We want all the same things they want in life," Killeen said. "Our students love to play sports just like them. We love our families and friends. We love to read and write. We love to create things just like them. We have more similarities between us than differences. We hope to erase some of the stereotypes they have about Americans. We hope our students learn that Africa is a wonderful place to live with so many culturally rich things."