June 7, 2002 - The Virginia Pilot: Peace Corps opens young minds

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Peace Corps opens young minds

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Peace Corps opens young minds*

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Peace Corps opens young minds

By KRISTEN KING, The Virginian-Pilot

© June 7, 2002

NORFOLK -- Hmmm. . . Ping-pong between classes. A final bell at noon. Snuggling your feet in slippers while you study.

School in another country doesn't sound so bad, third-graders at Camp Allen Elementary said as they listened to a returned Peace Corps volunteer from Slovakia.

But down the hall, where another volunteer described school life in Nepal, fifth-graders weren't so sure.

Sometimes it means walking more than an hour to classes. Or bringing a lunch box the size of a thermos, filled only with rice. Or -- if you're a girl -- leaving school after fifth or sixth grade to begin a lifetime of chores.

Eleven-year-old Murisa Harris scrunched her nose. She wouldn't trade -- even though she liked the pretty saris that Liz Hobson let her and her classmates try on.

What the students did agree on was that learning firsthand about other countries is a great lesson. ``Reading about it doesn't tell you everything,'' Murisa said. ``A person who lived there can tell you more than a book can.''

Throughout the week, that's been the focus at Camp Allen, where former volunteers are sharing their experiences from countries such as Poland, Afghanistan, Korea and Morocco. Each class is studying a country, then sharing their discoveries with the rest of the school.

``It's really opened their eyes to being part of the world,'' said fifth-grade teacher Deb Davis. She and several other teachers got the idea at a March workshop featuring free educational materials the Peace Corps provides.

George Little, education officer for the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Hampton Roads, said neither he nor national Peace Corps officials he's spoken with know of a school project done on such a large scale.

What makes this ``unique,'' Little said, is that it's not limited to a speech or two about the Peace Corps, but rather is a week-long lesson on globalism. The main mission, Davis said, is to introduce students to countries they may never be exposed to.

``This is a small world, really, and the more we know about each other, the more tolerant we are,'' she said.

In another third-grade class, students learned about Peru. They giggled as Mike Gontesky removed his poncho, sprawled out on the floor and used it as a blanket. They broke into full-fledged laughter when he wrapped a trash can in the same poncho and slung it over his shoulder, using it as a tote.

In the Slovakia classroom, students learned about ``name days,'' which associate every name with a date that's celebrated like a second birthday.

``My time to party,'' Timothy Lowden, 9, exclaimed. ``That rocks.''

Reach Kristen King at 222-5104 or krking@pilotonline.com

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