Morgan Frisch/Recorder staff

From left, Pawsansoe Karen Bree (on the screen), Skype Club Advisor Sean Thompson and Tyler Kearns are pictured Tuesday during a session of the Fonda-Fultonville Skype Club.


Recorder News Staff

FONDA — Fonda-Fultonville High School students have traveled to Sweden, Alaska and the United Kingdom without ever stepping foot on an airplane.

The newly established Skype Club has given students the opportunity to learn about other cultures and chat with people from other countries. One of the main goals is to help students develop an awareness of globalization and how the world is interconnected.

On Tuesday, the students took a trip to Morocco.

While the club is offered to juniors at the high school, several middle school students on Tuesday were invited to join in on the Skype Club’s conversation with teacher Pawsansoe Karen Bree, who was at the U.S. Peace Corps Worldwide School in Tinejdad, Morocco.

Bree told students her story, starting from when she fled the State of Burma at six years old to live at a refugee camp in Thailand for 13 years. She described her lack of freedom and citizenship and a brief time where she was separated from her family.

“There was a fence around the camp,” she said. “Anyone caught outside the camp was sent back to Burma.”

Bree ended up moving to the United States in 2008 where she enrolled in an intensive English as a New Language class in Utica with Fonda-Fultonville teacher Amy Lumbrazo. She told students how her father didn’t want her to come to America, but she really wanted an education.

“I told him I wanted to be something bigger than just sitting in a refugee camp,” she said. “I wanted my dreams to come true.”

Now, Bree has received her bachelor’s degree from Hartwick College and a master’s from Webster’s University Abroad.

She is enrolled in the Peace Corps in Morocco, teaching students who will Skype with Fonda-Fultonville club members and middle school students this week. During Tuesday’s first Skype with Bree, student’s asked questions about her family, future goals and the culture of Morocco.

The club stemmed from Sean Thompson’s 11th grade College American History class. The district’s exchange student, Lovisa Herfindal, who is in Thompson’s class, suggested having a Skype session with her classmates at Campeon High School in Helsingborg, Sweden.

The Swedish students were very interested in the American presidential election so they held the session on Election Day when the Campeon high-schoolers were having an election night party monitoring the results.

The Fonda-Fultonville students chatted politics and at 8 p.m. on Nov. 8, when results started to be reported. It was 2 a.m. in Sweden.

Thompson said the first experience was such a rich conversation and the students were really excited.

“It was good for our kids,” he said. “ It made them realize that they are not so different, but very similar.”

After the success of the first Skype, Thompson teamed up with Danielle Knabe, the district’s education technology specialist and started researching the internet to find high schools in other countries that may be interested in holding a teleconference. Skype Club is currently offered to juniors and the students meet approximately two Wednesdays per month. There are about 32 students who participate, but the advisors are hopeful to expand the club next school year.

Mackenzie Christman, a junior, said she joined the club to get more of a cultural experience.

“You don’t get that type of opportunity,” she said, explaining how the Skype sessions help to break through different stereotypes.

Knabe said each Skype session is different. While in this particular event, Bree did a majority of the talking, sometimes the Fonda-Fultonville students speak and the people on the other end ask them questions.

High School Principal Aaron Grady attended Tuesday’s session.

“It exposes kids to the realities of the rest of the world,” he said, after hearing Bree’s story.

The students have chatted with students from Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska and Christleton High School in Chester, England, United Kingdom. Thompson said they learned about the football team in Alaska taking a plane to their games and what students in England really think of the queen.

Fonda-Fultonville was accepted as a member of the Tony Blair Foundation, which is a non-profit group dedicated to globalization. This will provide opportunities for next year’s club.

“It broadens their horizons a little and opens up the world to them,” Thompson said.