Virtual Friends Making Real Visits

E-mail arrived one frosty morning in February of 1993 from a dear friend in Lima, Peru and immediately warmed my inbasket. Oscar Becerra was traveling to the United States on business and was coming to visit us at Delmar! Oscar and his son, Jose- Angel, had been writing to my young Delmar students on the Internet and a chance to meet him in person brought real excitement.

The long awaited day arrived and his magnetic Peruvian smile drew us inside the culture and heartbeat of his South American homeland. While visiting Delmar he and older son, Javier, mesmerized the 5th graders with personal accounts of street gangs in Lima.

Oscar described the practices of the Sendero Luminosa who brought fear into the hearts of his people. Oscar and Javier also spoke to several classes about schools and education in Lima. First graders giggled as Oscar described his clumsy and futile battle with an umbrella. There is very little rainfall in Lima and he hasn't mastered the art of closing a wet umbrella while remaining dry.

In August of 1994 in front of TV cameras eight shy Delmar KIDLINK students walked into Fulton Hall at Salisbury State University and met their favorite UK teacher, Mike Burleigh, who was teaching a class on telecommunications with me at the university. Mike and the kids had taken a virtual tour of the River Thames using KIDLINK IRC. Their lesson won a national computer contest and at last teacher and students were meeting face to face. Mike congratulated each one for meeting him on a sunny afternoon during their summer vacation. Their beaming faces told the truth - nothing could have kept them away from this moment.

Christmas lights sparkled in Delmarva skies last December (1994) and greeted the landing lights of the USAir flight carrying 16 year old British student, Ben Walter, to the 'colonies.' Ben was no stranger to Delmar students who had written to him during their recess times in my computer lab. Our fifth and six graders enjoyed comparing British and American teenage activities. Ben smiled as one student asked him if he spoke English. Everyone enjoyed his British accent.

May of this year brought visitors from New Zealand to our computer lab at Delmar. Though this group of visitors had not been writing to us using e-mail they came to see what this magic is that we call telecommunications. Lesley Mayne and Judy Knott from Auckland were fascinated as our Delmar kids demonstrated KIDLINK real time chat. Judy was reluctant to leave this new wonder she had seen.

In late May, 1995 KIDLINK's John Ost, freelance science writer who lives in New Hampshire brought pen, pad and tape recorder to Delmar Elementary School. Fifth grade student, Amanda Tillman, had been anticipating his arrival since e-mail announced his pending visit. John began The Writers' Corner on KIDLINK and has been mentoring and coaching the kids in their writing efforts for nearly a year. Amanda sent John a story she was writing as a continuation of a collaborative online writing effort which began at "The Writers' Corner" one Saturday last winter. Since then he has been assisting and encouraging this budding writer using e-mail. Amanda admitted that she was shy at first when meeting John but his genuine interest in her soon conquered those butterflies in her tummy. Her reflections on the day after capture the bond that began with blinking modem lights...

"Mr. Ost helped me with my writing by telling me how good I did and how proud he is of me. That helps me write more good writing for your enjoyment." [Amanda]

While the Internet may be a virtual meeting place for peoples all over the world we try very hard at Delmar to keep in mind that our friends in far away places are quite real. Kodak images adorn the walls of my lab and sit atop my CPU smiling at us from behind the monitor screen. These are living friends who are much more than text that can flow from the printer on command. At very special times these past three years we have been able to actually see their friendly faces and save those treasured moments in ASCII files in the 'read only' sector of our hearts.

More Visitors!

Patricia A. Weeg
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