AMERICAN, ARMENIAN STUDENTS REACH OUT IN ONLINE DEMOCRACY PROJECT

Source: U.S. Department of State
NewsBlaze, CA
May 2 2006

Eighth-grade students in two countries develop interactive community

What does independence mean, and can it represent something else in
a different country? How does my democracy compare with your democracy?

These are core questions in a collaborative project between
eighth-grade students in the United States and Armenia.

Ten students from the Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) recently
visited Washington to show off their contribution to the project:
a virtual tour of famous monuments, statues and buildings in
Washington. The Americans made the online video especially for students
at Charants School #67 in Yerevan, Armenia.

In exchange, the Armenian students are compiling a video of interviews
with people in their country, including their family members,
about life under the former Soviet Union and after Armenia declared
independence in 1991.

The exchange of videos is part of an online interactive partnership
entitled Independence and Democracy: A Friendship of Cultural and
Historical Exchange.

Martin O'Brien, a social studies teacher at the MSD in Frederick,
Maryland - located about an hour from Washington - and Aida Eichibyan,
an English teacher at Charants School #67, developed the program to
familiarize students with each others' cultures and national histories,
with a focus on issues related to freedom and democracy.

The program, which is part of the Armenia School Connectivity
Program (AmSCP), is sponsored by the U.S. State Department's Bureau
of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is carried out by Project
Harmony, an American nongovernmental organization that promotes
cross-cultural learning through international student exchanges and
online interaction.

Since October 2005, the Armenian and American students have been
communicating using an online Web forum to post information on a
variety of topics ranging from leisure activities and family life to
their views on freedom and democracy.

In addition to explaining their cultures via the Internet, students
also have been conducting research and preparing their online videos
to share with each other.

During a visit to the State Department April 26, the MSD students
unveiled their video of Washington. "My students produced this movie
over two busy days," said O'Brien. "They wrote the script and filmed
each other as they signed information to the camera talking about
various places" using American Sign Language.

O'Brien, who participated in an exchange to Armenia in 2005,
interpreted for his students.

The eighth graders also are planning to make a video tour of the homes
of American Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
in the future, he said.

"I am so excited and I can't wait to see their videotape and what
life is like in Armenia," said MSD student Shayna Unger.

"Our students love the connection of learning from other students
overseas," O'Brien said. "I can talk in the classroom about these
things, but when another student who is there [in Armenia] talks to
them about these topics, it is phenomenal."

The Maryland School for the Deaf, which was established in 1868, is
one of 15 U.S. schools participating in the 2005-2006 Armenia School
Connectivity Program through Project Harmony. Through AmSCP, more than
320 schools in Armenia have been provided with computer classrooms
and Internet connections, giving students, educators and community
members free access to outside information and computer training.

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