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NGCSU seniors help bring more technology to primary school in Poland
Student teachers find only five working computers in 250-student school
North Georgia College & State University student Ashley Walters-Otwell, center, drops by another local school while in Poland to help out a special needs class for the day and also help prepare dessert for the students. The education major at NGCSU is helping to get technology in a school in Poland.

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Deadline for donations:
Feb. 28

Poland might be an ocean away from most Hall County residents, but for two North Georgia College & State University seniors, the country is right next to their hearts.

Seniors Ashley Walters-Otwell and Madeline Jones, both 21, are student teaching there this semester. Walters-Otwell is already set up in a classroom teaching English, and Jones will be joining her next month.

There are plenty of differences in education styles - Polish students learn more team-building skills, for example - but what struck Walters-Otwell most about her students is how they learn.

The Primary School: St. Stanislaus Kostka has different grade levels than American classes, but Walters-Otwell said the more than 250 students range in age from kindergarten through eighth grade. And for those, there are 10 computers in the school and on average, only five are working.

There is a library, but it's only open during class time. The only required computer class students take is an information technology class that meets once a week, where students learn to type.

"When I first started thinking about teaching here, I wanted to have pen pals with my kids. I also wanted to do something faster for them, so I set up Skype dates every Wednesday with a school in the US from a previous placement teacher I had," Walters-Otwell said. "That can only be done with my computer because they don't have the resources."

Her class Skyped last week with students in the US, and the teacher showed students all their technology resources: An interactive white board, a used iPod and four computers.

"My kids, you should have seen their faces. They'd never seen anything like that," Walters-Otwell said. "It just breaks my heart that they're not able to have those resources at their disposal, especially because once I leave, they're not going to be able to continue."

The dilemma was revealed to Jones via a Skype conversation with Walters-Otwell.

"We came up with the acronym HOPE and we created the website for it and started spreading the news that we wanted to help," Jones said.

HOPE, which stands for Helping Others for Poland Education, is a way to help students maintain the connection between learning English and using English.

"When I first got here, half my kids did not do their homework. Now almost all of them do their homework just so they can participate in Skype," Walters-Otwell said.

"They're doing more homework because they have to prepare questions to ask. It makes things a lot better in their classes and it's showing on their tests."

The two have raised about $500 so far, nearly half their goal. $1,000 is the equivalent of 3,250 Polish zloty, with which Jones and Walters-Otwell plan to purchase a computer and dry erase board for the English classroom.
They want the rest of the money to go toward general resources to the school.

Jones, who is student teaching now at Spout Springs School of Enrichment, will bring the monetary donations to Poland when she leaves Feb. 29.

"We know how important technology is to our students, how it can open their education to a whole new world," Jones said.

The class uses Walters-Otwell's computer at least three times a week to Skype, pull up history lessons and listen to American music.

"They know a lot of American music. We sometimes hash out present verbs or look for words they don't know, look up lyrics and talk about what they're singing," she said.

"They're not old fashioned, just the town I'm working in doesn't have the updated resources. ... I did some student teaching at a school in Gainesville and they were upset they didn't have two computers in a classroom. These students don't even have one."

During her English lesson on famous Britons and famous Americans, Walters-Otwell was able to pull up Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" and Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and share them with students who'd never heard of these men before, outside a mention in a textbook.

"We want them to realize what they're learning is useful and how to apply it," Jones said. "We're so passionate about all of these kids. We have a passion for opening their eyes up and setting a strong foundation. If we can do that over here, there's no reason why we can't do it over there."