Soccer brings Coon Rapids, Brazilian students together

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. State Department, students and staff at Adams Elementary School, Coon Rapids, are using technology to bridge the cultural divide with students from Brazil.

Rayanna Andrews, a fourth-grade student at Adams Elementary School in Coon Rapids, has her soccer ball signed by Cristiano Dias of the Minnesota Stars. Dias, and teammate Andy Lorei, joined students at Adams to talk via WebEx about football/soccer with students in Machado, Brazil.

Rayanna Andrews, a fourth-grade student at Adams Elementary School in Coon Rapids, has her soccer ball signed by Cristiano Dias of the Minnesota Stars. Dias, and teammate Andy Lorei, joined students at Adams to talk via WebEx about football/soccer with students in Machado, Brazil.

Fourth- and fifth-grade students are taking part in eight Classroom Connection programs.

Adams students are communicating with students of Adriana Lemos Caixeta Vieira, in Machado, Brazil, and Roberta Martins de Lima, in Bela Vista de Goias, Brazil.

The May 2 Classroom Connection in Tim Simonson’s fourth-grade classroom was particularly popular as the Brazilian students gave a Power Point presentation about “futebol” (football) and the Adams students spoke about playing soccer.

Adams students all made posters about soccer to hold up and many students wore soccer jerseys and had soccer balls with them.

Making the exchange even more exciting was that Elzo Coelho, who played for Brazil in the 1986 World Cup, joined the students in Machado and Cristiano Dias and Andy Lorei, two players from the Minnesota Stars, the state’s professional soccer team, joined the Adams students.

In an “it’s a small world after all” moment, Dias shared with the Brazilian students that he grew up in Machado and attended their school.

The students were very excited to hear this.

The Brazilian students were excited to share that Brazil will host the World Cup in 2014.

The children in Machado said they play and think about soccer all the time and Brazil is known as the “country of soccer.”

When the Brazilian students asked Lorei how poplar soccer is in the U.S. and he said that many children play soccer but quit when they get to high school, there was an audible expression of shock.

After the WebEx interview, Dias said he enjoyed hearing the children’s voices because it reminded him of his happy times at the school.

“It was an amazing exchange,” Dias said. “I hope I inspired them to play soccer so maybe they’ll come here [to the United States].

“I showed that I made it, so maybe they’ll see they can make it too.”

Before leaving Simonson’s classroom, Dias and Lorei answered numerous questions from Adams students about soccer and their lives as professional athletes.

“You made some new fans today,” Simonson told the players. “I guarantee that!”

The grant was made possible thanks to the work of Dr. Jennifer Babiracki, an elementary special education (SPED) supervisor with the Anoka-Hennepin School District, who was selected to receive a fellowship from the U.S. Department of State to participate in the Educational Seminar: 2011-12 Brazil Administrator Exchange Program.

One of nine educators in the U.S. to receive this fellowship, Babiracki hosted three principals from Brazil in October and in July she will travel to Brazil.

Babiracki applied for an educational seminars program alumni small grant for Adams because the visitors from Brazil spent time at Adams learning about the instruction, resources and supports that are offered to students at the school.

“The principals were a part of a school assembly and shared letters from their students,” Babiracki said.

“Principal [Jeremy]Tammi had students from Adams write letters to the students from Brazil and gave them to the principals to share with their students.

“Jeremy also had his students sign a school banner for one of the principals to give her students.

“The principals were very impressed with Adams and throughout their three-week stay always talked fondly of Adams Elementary.”

The goal of the Classroom Connection program is for students to demonstrate skills in understanding similarities and differences in cultures between American and Brazil.

They were surveyed before and after the experience.

Many people have played a part in making the Classroom Connection program a reality.

Leslie Caye Yeats, a retired Spanish teacher from Champlin Park High School, who speaks Portuguese fluently, has been the interpreter.

According to Babiracki, before the experience began, Yeats met with students to explain her role and talk about the Brazilian culture.

On the technical side of things, Babiracki said Tom Skogland, instructional technology facilitator, has been instrumental in coordinating the WebEx exchanges and ensuring they unfold smoothly.

Bruce DeWitt, the district’s technology facilitator, has also played a key role.

Babiracki said he speaks and writes Portuguese and sends e-mails to the Brazilian principals detailing the directions of how to access WebEx for each Classroom Connection.

The program has been a great opportunity for students and staff to learn about each other’s schools, countries and culture, according to Babiracki.

“Through advances in technology, our students can learn about cultural similarities and differences through first hand experiences,” Babiracki said.

“As an instructional leader, I feel it is our social responsibility to capitalize on these technology advances and collectively engage students and staff in creative practices that promote and create opportunities to learn about others throughout the world.”

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