LEWISTON — All the formal work was over. Via video conference, a room full of fifth- and sixth-graders here had told a room full of school kids in the Netherlands about the local weather, restaurants, sports and fun things to do, and the kids in the Netherlands had done the same.
The floor opened to questions. Kids here had watched kids there for the last half-hour dip their fingers into large white cups and wanted to know, what are you eating?
Kids here laughed. They love French fries.
Lori Schnieders, a University of Southern Maine professor, brought members of Geiger Elementary School’s Civil Rights Team together with a class at Dreefschool in Haarlem on Friday morning through Children Connecting Cultures.
Part of her lesson: We’re not so different.
Schnieders has run the program since 1999, connecting schools from Missouri to Maine with countries such as Scotland and Norway. She’s working with students this semester in Lewiston and South Portland.
Kids trade handwritten letters first, making their counterparts less an image on a screen and more real people, Schnieders said.
Students also research their hometowns to share details such as weather patterns, she said, so first they learn about their own square mile, then, about someone else’s.
Schnieders gave students a few pointers before going live at 8:30 a.m. in a conference room at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College. For instance, speak slowly and loudly: kids in Haarlem had only been studying English three or four years.
At Dreefschool, perhaps to work around the occasional language barrier, students pieced together videos of Dutch life. One boy took the camera home to show off his puppy, rabbit and fish.
Another group took the camera to market and in a clip labeled “Tipical Dutch Products,” watched a fish seller behead and gut raw herring.
The students here cringed, then offered a collective “Ewwww,” as a young girl tipped the fish into her mouth.
“I thought it was really cool seeing people on the other side of the world,” Geiger sixth-grader Zoe Tedeman said.
Students were surprised to spot the same name brand clothing they wear, and not one Dutch child wore wooden clogs.
“I just thought they’d look more different, I don’t know how,” sixth-grader Sarah Daney said.
Hands shot up when asked if they had any interest in visiting the Netherlands. They would not, they agreed, eat the herring.
“I’d like to try the cheese,” sixth-grader Hawa Soubane said.