An Interview With Laurie Ardito On Her Students’ Buncee Buddies Pen Pal Experience

Fourth grade teacher Laurie Ardito prefaced the Skype call with her Buncee Buddies pen pals with a few eye-opening facts. “The Kibera Slum is less than one square mile, but it contains one million people. To put that in perspective, Westhampton Beach is almost three square miles with just over 1,700 people.” This information was met with “wow”s and “oh dear”s from her students, all of whom were shocked by the information she shared.

Our visit to Raynor Country Day School was filled with many touching moments like this one. Raynor and the Cheery Children Education Centre were connected as pen pals through our program, Buncee Buddies: Celebrate Peace 2016. Buncee Buddies: Celebrate Peace 2016 connects classrooms to communicate and exchange Buncees created by the students, inspired by the quote by Mahatma Gandhi: Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

“Change the things that don’t seem right, and keep pushing yourself to do it. Don’t wait for someone else” and “Do what you love” were just some of the students’ reflections on the quote. After the Skype call, which was full of question exchanges (What do you do after school? Do you have pets? What are your best subjects?), we listened to the students from Raynor reflect on their experience. While many of the students said they felt bad for seeing the’ poverty of their pen pals, Ms. Ardito said, “Don’t feel bad. Now you know we have to do something.” You can read more of the students’ reflections in this article.

We asked Ms. Ardito a few questions on her Buncee Buddies experience. We invite you to read the interview below, and fill out this form if you’re interested in future Buncee Buddies information!

What made you decide to join Buncee Buddies?

Over the summer I read a book that inspired me, called "I Will Always Write You Back," which was a true story about a young girl in Pennsylvania whose class participated in a pen pal program with a class in Zimbabwe. They began a friendship that lasted all the way into adulthood, and it was a life-changing experience for both of them. After finishing the book, I began researching pen pal programs because this was an initiative that I really wanted to undertake with my students, but was unsure about which one to become involved in. During our professional development training with Buncee at the beginning of the year, I discovered that Buncee sponsored a global pen pal program, and I eagerly signed up.

What has been your favorite experience with Buncee Buddies so far?

Hands-down, our Skype with our Buncee Buddies in Kibera, Africa! I was so incredibly inspired by Jairus Makambi, the principal of our "Buddy" school, the Cheery Centre in Kibera. We had exchanged several emails, and were both eager to allow our students to "meet" via Skype. Prior to our Skype session, our students learned about a bit about Kibera and the Cheery School through a "Mystery Skype," but it was talking with the students that really made an impact with them.

What makes Buncee Buddies different than other global collaborations?

What I love about Buncee's program is that they handle the connection piece--we were matched up with multiple classrooms from both the U.S. and from other countries. This way you know that you are being matched up with another teacher and classroom who are as willing to participate in the program as you are. Additionally, the Buncee platform is incredibly user-friendly, and provides a terrific way for students to demonstrate and share their knowledge, learning, and ideas with others. For our "Mystery Skype," the entire class participated in creating slides that touched on so many areas in our curriculum, from geography and map skills to writing and publishing.

How have your students responded to the program?

The students have had such an emotional response to the program. It is one thing to learn about a country halfway around the world, and how their struggles, culture, and education might be very different from your own. But it's another thing entirely to interact with the students in real time. The Gandhi quote "Be the change you want to see in the world" has been a great anchoring theme for them. I think this experience is opening their eyes to the fact that it's not enough to just recognize that a situation is unfair or to wish for change. Just because these students are only 9 or 10 years old, and just because they live a half a world away from their "Buddies" in Kenya doesn't mean they can't make a meaningful difference. After the Skype, the students were filled with ideas for what they could do to help improve the living and learning environment for the students in the Cheery School. It was an incredibly moving experience for them.

How will your students utilize Buncee for the program and in the classroom?

We are now in the process of brainstorming ways to work together with our Buncee Buddies. Our students love using Buncee, so as we participate in our Celebrate Peace projects, the students will chronicle their learning and their activities using the Buncee platform. Each of our students will be paired up individually with a student from the Cheery School, and they are excited to use Buncee to communicate and correspond with their new friends in Kibera.

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