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Skaneateles middle schoolers form bond with Kazakhstani students, plan trip

Students gathered and posed before opening a package from their correspondents in Kazakhstan.  First row (from left): Bella Capozza, Ellen Flanagan, Jessica Casper, Zoe Osborne, Sierra Sander, Liz Copeland, Carolyn Hagen. Middle row: Jenna Fields, Corin Wagner, Justin Wolford, Nick Paciorek, Nicola Kunz, Noah Smith. Top row: Amelia Huba, Heather Short, Christian Caldwell, Connor Ellison.

Students gathered and posed before opening a package from their correspondents in Kazakhstan. First row (from left): Bella Capozza, Ellen Flanagan, Jessica Casper, Zoe Osborne, Sierra Sander, Liz Copeland, Carolyn Hagen. Middle row: Jenna Fields, Corin Wagner, Justin Wolford, Nick Paciorek, Nicola Kunz, Noah Smith. Top row: Amelia Huba, Heather Short, Christian Caldwell, Connor Ellison. Lori Ruhlman

A much-awaited package arrived at Skaneateles Middle School from Kazakhstan recently. The package, filled with gifts for a group of seventh and eighth graders, is the most recent in a series of exchanges between two groups of students who are a world apart, but who hope to someday be together.

Kids from Skaneateles and from Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan, plan to travel in the same vehicles, eat the same foods, go on the same adventures and sleep under the same roofs for about a week this coming summer. It is the combined experience of a lifetime.

From the beginning it was an unlikely pairing; a magical “click” that happened over the internet between two groups of students, their schools and their teachers. Bonded first as e-pals, the middle school students from Skaneateles and Kazakhstan went on to write letters, share photographs and mail token gifts. Now they are planning a visit that will unite them in Skaneateles this summer.

It started with a group of seventh grade girls in the home base of Sharon O’Connell, library media specialist, last year. Several students, including Amelia Huba, then a seventh grader, commented that it would be great to become e-pals with students in another country, O’Connell said. They decided to try Kazakhstan because there was already a connection: Student Sierra Sander (one of the girls in O’Connell’s home base) had been there as a four-year-old with her parents when they adopted her baby brother Emil, who is now a fourth grader at State Street School. Library computer aide Christine Dickerson did some exploring and found the perfect teacher, Tatyana Arendarenko, in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan, with students the same age. The excitement and dedication were equal on both sides.

“You would think it would be easy today to establish this kind of connection, with the Internet,” said O’Connell, “but it isn’t.” It is hard to find the perfect match, with a high level of interest and commitment on both sides, she said. “This one just really clicked.” Often times, connections over the internet are made but then fade away. This connection has continued to grow stronger with time.

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