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Publish Date: 1/9/2007

Colin Wappel gives an unscripted talk about himself during part of a cultural exchange program in Marnie Steele’s class at Trail Ridge Middle School. Times-Call/Bradley Wakoff

Reaching for the world
Trail Ridge is only Colorado school to participate in cultural exchange

 LONGMONT — At the beginning of school, Emmie Greff thought her teacher was going to be “corny,” because she told “corny jokes.”

A few weeks later Emmie, 12, a student in Trail Ridge Middle School’s sixth-grade honors class, realized Marnie Steele wasn’t corny at all.

“The more I got to know her, I realized she was a really cool person,” Emmie said.

That realization was an important milestone in Emmie’s life, and she plans to include the event on a timeline about her life.

On Monday, Emmie and her classmates began drawing personal timelines — including when they broke arms, moved, got a new pet or sibling or started at a new school — that they hope to exchange with sixth-grade students attending Henderson Secondary school in Singapore. The Singapore students will complete the same lesson.

It’s all part of the One World Youth Project, a nonprofit global sister- school initiative in which students share information about their lives through online message boards, e-mail, letters and cultural exchange packages.

“Personally, I want my kids to realize that life exists outside of Colorado,” said Steele, who teaches the sixth-grade honors class. “Life goes on outside of here, and they can invoke change. Just because they are sixth-graders doesn’t mean they have to wait until they’re adults.”

Sister schools also participate in a local project that takes action on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. In 2000, 189 heads of state and government summarized those eight goals — which include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases — that the U.N. hopes to achieve by 2015.

Steele’s students and their sister school will tackle the seventh millennium goal: “Ensure environmental sustainability.” Although they haven’t yet chosen a local service project, student ideas include creating a “blackout day” by using less electricity at school, collecting garbage or planting trees.

Trail Ridge is the only Colorado school participating in the One World project, said Jill Slutzker, Group News coordinator for One World and a sophomore at Georgetown University. The program, which is in its third year, has 44 schools involved worldwide.

One World Youth Project is entirely run and operated by a volunteer staff of university-age young people, called project ambassadors.

Steele said she spent time last summer researching programs that would help facilitate learning in her classroom.

During that time, she read Angelina Jolie’s book, “Notes from My Travels” (Simon & Schuster Inc., 2003), a journal about the people whom Jolie — an actress and United Nations Goodwill ambassador — met during her worldwide travels. That book led to Steele discovering One World’s Web site.

Steele said her class hasn’t yet had much contact with its sister classroom, because the Singapore school has been on vacation, but eventually the two will share a real-time, online “conversation burst” to exchange information.

“The goal is that we communicate with them and bounce ideas off and use each other’s ideas to help us work on the same goal,” Steele said.

On Monday, Steele’s class read about Troy Gilbert, a longtime New Orleans resident, who tells the students about life before and after Hurricane Katrina, what he loves about his hometown and one specific area environmentally affected by Katrina.

After starting on their timelines, the students began developing a pie chart of how they spend their days — including what percent of their day they spend eating, sleeping, practicing on musical instruments, and playing sports and video games — so they can compare their lives with the Singapore students’ lives.

“We spend too much time at school,” Nathan Johnson, 12, concluded after the students calculated how many hours each day they spend learning.

Steele said the importance of the lesson about Gilbert and creating the timeline and pie charts is to hear that “everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has a history.”

“I think it’s really cool,” said Jaspreet Shahi, 11. “I’ve always wanted to learn about other cultures. We might get to find out how they spend their day. It’s kind of an honor to be doing this. Not everyone gets to do it in our school.”

Steele said that depending how the project goes this year, she will consider expanding this program next year to other classrooms.

Susan Glairon can be contacted at 303-684-5224 or

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