Harford Friends seventh-graders learning about Afghanistan

Seventh-graders at Harford Friends School have a new opportunity to let their voices be heard as far away as Afghanistan. The only school in Maryland selected to participate in an interactive program entitled "Afghanistan Hearts and Minds," Harford Friends incorporated the program into the seventh-grade social studies curriculum, taught by teacher Lauren Redding.

The "Afghanistan Hearts and Minds" adventure is a unique experience for students. Developed by Dina Fesler of the Children's Culture Connection, it takes participants inside Dina's life as a reporter who works to make a difference in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp in Afghanistan. Through daily journal entries, video diaries and countless photographs, the students are able to meet individuals who live in the camp as well as their American sponsors. The story follows six young men as they work to build their own business making briquettes, a source of fuel commonly used in Afghanistan.

Harford Friends School was chosen as the only school from Maryland to participate, along with one school from each state in the country. Redding, who is thrilled with the program, commented that "Our seventh grade students have the opportunity to let their voices be heard. They share their opinions, stories and suggestions on an online forum with students across the country, as they progress through the program."

In daily classroom discussions, the students show that they realize that they're in a special situation. Redding continued, "The story is still unfolding even now and our students have a role in the outcome."

By giving U.S students the chance to learn about the culture of Afghanistan, walls are being broken down, bridges are being built and stereotypes are disappearing. Redding reports that there have been countless "aha" moments already, as the students grapple with what they are seeing and hearing about the medical needs of orphaned children in the camps.

The students also learn about the effects of war on a country and the serious problems that persist, not only in Afghanistan, but in many countries around the world. Deteriorating infrastructures, infant mortality rates and illiteracy are among the many issues that the class is analyzing.

Ten days in to the 15-day program. Redding and her students were "even more excited now than they were at the start." Each new journal entry was more insightful than the last and Redding's class couldn't wait to discover the ending. Redding encourages anyone who works with middle school students to visit the website, watch the videos, read the articles and read some of the HFS seventh-graders' comments on the forum.

Harford Friends School is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school in the Quaker tradition in Forest Hill. Call the school, 443-640-6300, for information about admission for 2013-2014.

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