Kindergartners put new reading skills to good use

Lancaster Elementary School teacher Jeanne Paff coaches student Nicholas Johnson as he records a story for students at the kindergarten class’s sister school in Zhuhai City, China. The books and a CD of the students reading the stories will both be sent t
Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published June 1, 2009.

The kindergartners at Lancaster Elementary School are learning how to read English.

Their counterparts in Zhuhai City, China, are learning to speak English.

Through connections forged by a Huntington University professor, the two schools on opposite sides of the world have created a link that will help both classes achieve their goals - and the rural Huntington County students, at least, are learning how much they have in common with the Chinese children.

"They like to listen to music, go with their friends," says Lancaster kindergarten teacher Jeanne Paff. "They eat the same kinds of foods.

"A lot of their lives are very much like our lives here."
Paff and her class are pioneering a Huntington-Zhuhai City link that she'd like to see continue, and maybe even expand.

The local kindergartners are ending their school year by preparing recordings of themselves reading books, which will then be sent to the school in China. The children there can listen to the recordings on CD while following the words and pictures in the books, Paff says.

Paff's inspiration for starting the sister school program came through the efforts of Luke Fetters, a co-worker of Paff's husband John. Fetters, a Huntington University professor, has for the past two years led groups of Huntington educators to China to conduct camps designed to help teachers and children in China improve their skills in spoken English.

Through Fetters, Paff was able to make connections with the school in Zhuhai City, located on the coast of China near Hong Kong. The Lancaster students started out the project by celebrating the Chinese New Year in January - even though, at that time, the youngsters had no idea where China was.

"Now, they know," Paff says.

A map of China, with Zhuhai City highlighted, adorns the wall outside the kindergarten classroom. Surrounding the map are photos and notes the children have received from the students in China, who are the equivalent of United States fifth-graders.

Paff says she chose the older students because their English skills are better developed, making them better equipped to write notes to the kindergartners.

The Lancaster students sent "Flat Stanleys" - similar to a paper doll - to the students in China, who photographed the figure in front of sites around their city, then sent the photos back to Lancaster. Those photos are also posted on the wall outside the classroom.

As a final project, Paff secured a grant from Shuttleworth Inc., to purchase books and recording equipment. During their last few days of school, the Lancaster kindergartners read the books out loud while Paff used a computer to record the students reading.
After she edits the recording, she'll package the books, the CDs and notes from her students for delivery to the fifth-graders in China. The plan is for the fifth-graders to share the books with younger students in their school, she says.

She plans to repeat the project next school year.

"This is something I want to keep doing," Paff says. "Maybe we could even have a sister city relationship between our two cities."