To the students of Brigantine Elementary School, Cass Parker, a New Zealand exchange teacher who visited their school last week, is a celebrity.
As Parker made her way through the hallways of the elementary school on day two of her visit last week, she was greeted by enthusiastic waves and greetings from every student she passed.
"Before this, we only got to see her on the TV; now we have her here in person. It's super exciting," said art teacher Teri Gragg, who helped coordinate Parker's visit to Brigantine Elementary and Middle Schools on May 5-7. The visit was also Parker's first time traveling to America.
In her reference to "seeing Parker on the TV," what Gragg meant was that her students were used to seeing Parker on a big projection screen set up in their classroom that is hooked up to the Internet via Skype, an online video-calling site that allows people in places around the world to talk face-to-face in real-time via video devices.
For the past four years, Gragg and her Brigantine students have been "Skyping" with Parker and her students at Broad Green Intermediate in Nelson, New Zealand, a city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay on the South Island. The Skype sessions are a way for both schools' students to learn about the other's culture.
"It started off with us just talking with our kids about the differences in time and weather and so forth, and then it progressed into Teri saying she was an art teacher and she wanted my kids to make artwork for her school's art night," Parker said.
Brigantine Public Schools hosts an Arts Night each year with a different cultural theme, last year's being New Zealand.
"I agreed," said Parker, "but I said, 'I can't draw for my life,' and she said, 'That's OK, I'll teach them.'"
Gragg started Skyping Parker's class every Wednesday to teach them drawing techniques.
"My kids would come up to the computer with their work and show her, and she would tell them what they were doing wrong, then I would scan the artwork, email it over to her as a JPEG, and she would correct it and scan it back," Parker said. "The connection we have with each others' schools is amazing, and the whole thing has just grown from that."
During the course of the three days, Parker visited the Brigantine schools, she taught the students a lesson on the Maori culture, the indigenous people of New Zealand, including how to count to 10 in Maori, a popular Maori children's song called Paki Paki and the meaning of a haka, a traditional ancestral war cry or dance, which they also practiced.
Parker also answered lots of questions about New Zealand, including, "Do you have swimming pools in New Zealand?" asked by second-grader Marina Khan, and, "What kind of animals do you have in New Zealand?" asked by second-grader Jamie Wilkinson.
"The kids are really intrigued about the time and weather difference between here and there and about our native animals," Parker said, "and they're especially intrigued by our school day, which includes a 20-minute morning tea."
Parker will bring the lessons she learned in America back to New Zealand to share with her students.
"America is a beautiful, beautiful place," she said.
The New Zealand students also will participate in Brigantine's Art Night 2013, which is June 6 with "An African Safari" theme. Parker's students made Tinga Tinga animal artwork from Tanzania for the event.
"They're an extension of our school now," Gragg said.
Contact Elisa Lala: