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Roberts Elementary students develop relationship with peers in Rwanda

SUWANEE -- As a class of third-grade students waited for a Skype connection to connect them with students in Rwanda, the Roberts Elementary class tossed around questions they would ask their new pen pals.

"What do you do for fun?"

"Do you have chores or jobs after school?"

"What sports do you play? Do you have teams?"

At one point, a student offered a follow-up to a question about electricity being available in their pals' homes in Rwanda. "Would you watch TV?"

Thanks to a partnership with Phillip Haynes and the Crimson Academy day care, the Roberts class has developed friendships with a school of 282 kids in Kagina, Rwanda. That school is non-graded, and the area is starving for education, Haynes said. He was introduced to the group in Rwanda by a local missionary.

"The whole area doesn't have education at all, so we're bringing it to them," Haynes said. "People ask for education, not food, not money. I was like, 'Wow.'"

The school in Rwanda didn't exist until Haynes was part of a group that built it about two years ago. Education also wasn't available, so one fifth-grade class now has a 20-year-old in it, Haynes said.

For the Roberts students, they contributed boxes of school supplies to send to Rwanda. Teacher Melissa Still said she volunteered to be a part of this project because pen pals are something, "you remember forever."

Still said her students have had correspondence each way with their pals in Rwanda, and a first-class letter takes about a week to arrive. The time difference is six hours.

The Roberts students have learned a difference in school schedule and lifestyle. The Rwandan students are in school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., walk home for lunch and most of their parents are farmers.

"The experience has been incredible," Still said. "I have parents emailing me about discussions they're having at home."

While this dialogue began during the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests period, Still said she hopes to have more correspondence with other classes in the future, and able to teach more in-depth about the country of Rwanda.

"We were talking about how we can use it instructionally," Roberts principal Dion Jones said. "But this is a great kickoff, because it's talking to kids in other countries."