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Students send Thanksgiving wishes to local soldier in Iraq
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Preschoolers at Rich Acres Elementary School talked to a local soldier stationed in Iraq this week using Skype, an Internet tephone and videophone service. Above, Rich Acres fifth-grade teacher Joanna Griffith listens as her husband, Staff Sgt. Glenn Griffith, addresses the students. Also listening is the Griffiths’ daughter, 9-year-old Reagan. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Preschoolers at Rich Acres Elementary School used technology this week to talk to a soldier stationed in Iraq about camels, time zones and turkey.

Every year, preschool students at Rich Acres send care packages to a soldier from the community, said preschool teachers Lisa Rosenberg, Susan Roupe and Nichole Helms. This year, the school chose Staff Sgt. Glenn Griffith, whose wife, JoAnna Griffith, teaches fifth grade at Rich Acres.

Before sending the packages, the students had a face-to-face conversation Tuesday with the staff sergeant using Skype, a free program that can be downloaded to make video and voice calls from any computer connected to the Internet.

JoAnna Griffith pointed a camera at the 40 preschoolers, who gathered at the front of her classroom. Through an overhead projector, the children were able to watch a larger-than-life version of Staff Sgt. Griffith. Because the video was live, the students could ask Griffith questions, which he was able to answer immediately.

"The children were mesmerized," Helms said.

Before they spoke to Griffith, the students learned about the technology that allowed them to speak to and see the soldier.

The teachers also discussed possible questions with the students. Roupe said students were discouraged from asking weapons-related questions, and no photographs of weapons were shown.

Roupe said some students wanted to know if children in Iraq do the same things they do here, such as going to school. Helms, who showed her class photos of Iraq that included animals and scenery there, said the students mostly were curious about the animals.

During the video conference, students asked Griffith what kinds of animals live in Iraq. He told them he has seen a few camels during his travels, which impressed the group. Griffith said in addition to the camels, he also has seen crows, pigeons, dogs, cats, coyotes, wolves, sheep and goats.

The children also learned about the time difference between Henry County and Iraq. Griffith explained that he would eat Thanksgiving Dinner before the students due to the eight-hour time difference.

The preschoolers also were curious about how Griffith traveled to Iraq. Helms said the students had just learned about the pilgrims crossing the ocean on the Mayflower. They knew Iraq was across the ocean, so they asked Griffith if he traveled by ship as well, Helms said.

Griffith explained that he took a plane, not the Mayflower.

The students asked Griffith what he keeps in his backpack. He answered rain gear, meals, gloves, goggles and lip balm. Lip balm and other toiletries were put into the care packages the students prepared, Helms said.

After singing Griffith the song "Mr. Turkey" in unison, the children wished him a happy Thanksgiving. Then they said goodnight because it was bedtime in Iraq and naptime at Rich Acres.

Helms said that when the care packages arrive in Iraq, there will be another Skype video call. One student added a pair of reindeer antlers to his package, she said, and the children are excited to see if Griffith will wear them during their next conversation.

JoAnna Griffith said she uses Skype to talk to her husband almost every night. Through a built-in camera on his laptop and her Web camera, they can talk and see each other as long as there is an Internet connection.

Also taking part in the video conference was the Griffiths' daughter, 9-year-old Reagan.


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