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Middle school students tackle cultural differences

by Merrie Leininger, Staff Writer

Do you want to know about China, Africa or Australia?

Seventh graders at Carson Valley Middle School could help you understand the art, traditions and religion of these countries, thanks to a new program tested by the teachers this year.

The History Alive! Contemporary World Cultures program has introduced music and pictures of other cultures to what would normally be a dry rendition of climate and topography.

Geography teachers Joel Sharpe, Angela Abawi and Wendy Perra say the program has enlivened their classes.

“Our textbook is more geared toward high school kids and I think it is a bit too hard for 7th graders,” Sharpe said. “This program tries to engage the students and there are a lot of hands-on activities. Now we use the textbooks more as a reference, like getting information from an encyclopedia.”

Sharpe said the program helps students who learn in different ways.

“Some students have strengths in some areas and others have strengths in other areas. Traditionally, if you are a strong reader, you will do well in school, but if you have students who are a good communicator or maybe a good artist, this program allows you to reach those students,” Sharpe said. “It’s fun. I’ve loved using it.”

Sharpe’s students are learning about Africa.

“We get to know other cultures and know some of the languages,” said Katie Bennett. “I learned that if you walk through the Sahara Desert, you would probably die because of the harsh winds and sun and there are no malls.”

“I always wanted to go to Africa,” said Jason Curtis. “It would be fun to go to the Nile River or a tropical rain forest. I’ve lived here my entire life. (In other geography classes) you just learn latitude and longitude, but here you learn about what people are doing.”

“We learned how the cities are similar in Africa to here. Some of us thought it was just desert, but there are cities and buses and streetlights,” said Kevin Clarke-Smoot. “We take notes about Africa in a notebook and we draw pictures to help us remember. Yesterday we drew the desert and the tropical rain forest.”

“It’s a fun country to learn about,” said Lisa Galvin. “I like to learn about far away places. We listened to tapes in different languages. Sooner or later, Mr. Sharpe said we could start learning chants and dances.”

Wendy Perra’s students are learning about China and she said the lessons have really engaged her students.

“It is really neat. I get them going and then just sit back and say, ‘Ah!'” Perra said.

Many students were interested in the differences of Chinese and American religions.

“Buddha is this weird guy. He was a Chinese emperor and when he died, people started looking at him as a god. He’s powerful,” said Amanda Park.

“He believes in a lot of things like peace and love,” Valerie Moore said. “It’s a lot different because we believe in one God. They don’t believe in heaven. (When you die) they believe you go up to meet the gods and you look after your family.”

“It’s fun because we learn about everything in each continent to do fun things so we remember what we learn. We really get into it. We color maps and dragons and write stuff. Right now, we are reading a really good book,” said Carrie Peck.

Each class is reading a fiction book set in the country they are studying.

“We’re reading a book called ‘So Far From the Bamboo Grove,’ and it is during the war when they had to get on a train and there were communists and refugees,” said Sara Miller. “We did Chinese writing, that was fun. In elementary school we had (U.S.) geography. It was boring. You didn’t do anything but just look at your book. We do more stuff and learn more than just about the U.S.”