Transcripts

Illinois, D.C. Kids Form Unusual Partnership

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
Now, here at "Metro Connection," we like to think radio isn't just a solitary experience. No, we like to think that sometimes it can bring people together in expected ways. So we were pleasantly surprised when one of our stories did just that. It was a piece we aired this past fall by Kavitha Cardoza. It introduced a group of Illinois students who were scrimping and saving to raise money to come to D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

00:00:28
We're at a rodeo to raise money for the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1

00:00:36
He wants to go, too.

SHEIR

00:00:38
Well, get this, a teacher here in the District, Joanna Lewton, heard that story and something about it moved her.

MS. JOANNA LEWTON

00:00:44
The rodeo, I just keep coming back to that and spaghetti -- and something about a -- they had a bake sales where they actually had treats for pets.

SHEIR

00:00:51
Lewton got in touch with the folks in Gifford and an unlikely partnership was born. Kavitha Cardoza brings us the story.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

00:00:58
Joanna Lewton, a teacher at Capital City Public Charter School in Northwest D.C. stands next to rows of food dishes.

LEWTON

00:01:05
This was a fantastic chicken and apricot dish. We have some ground turkey chili, lasagna, homemade quiches. We have a couple kids who were sick, but the parents actually came to school today just to drop off food.

CARDOZA

00:01:17
It's a potluck dinner hosted by the school for parents and students from a middle school in Gifford, Ill. Lewton said she was touched by the radio story she heard last October, about all the bake sales and cow washes, these eighth graders organized to raise the approximately $400 it would cost each student to visit the nation's capital.

LEWTON

00:01:37
I was so impressed with how hard they're working. There are budget cuts and it's just really hard to raise money for things.

CARDOZA

00:01:43
So Lewton asked her eighth grade students whether they would like to become pen-pals with the Gifford students and help them with fundraising. Twelve-year-old Nnenna Nwaezeapu says all her classmates had the same reaction.

MS. NNENNA NWAEZEAPU

00:01:54
Meeting somebody new, it's sort of exciting. And, like, we know it's really cool to be in the nation's capital. So somebody else wants to see that and we should help them.

CARDOZA

00:02:06
Gwen Wilson, a parent from Gifford, said she was overwhelmed by Lewton's thoughtfulness when they first spoke on the phone.

MS. GWEN WILSON

00:02:12
I've had huge goosebumps on my arms because I thought this sounds like the most amazing possibility for our trip.

CARDOZA

00:02:19
And so a friendship between these two schools was born. Capital City had a bake sale and raised $160 for the Gifford School. Dozens of letters went back and forth between eighth graders from both schools, filled with questions like, have you seen the president? There were discoveries, my name is Sarah, too. Explanations, the metro is our underground train. And confessions, my handwriting is atrocious. At the end of each letter, with smiley faces and the line I can't wait to meet you. Finally, it was time to meet. Joanna Lewton and Gwen Wilson took to each other right away.

LEWTON

00:02:57
I'd asked where Gwen was and she saw me, Joanna, Gwen, ah, this big hug and it just a connection right away.

WILSON

00:03:02
Yes.

LEWTON

00:03:03
Right away, I think that's one reason we made this work so much easier.

CARDOZA

00:03:07
Jhared Brooks says students bonded during a scavenger hunt around their school.

MR. JHARED BROOKS

00:03:11
And it was kind of a memorable moment because that's when everyone started talking to each other more. And getting to be like, whoa, you were the one that liked baseball? Cool, I like baseball as well.

CARDOZA

00:03:20
Students found they had a lot of things in common, many like the same music, video games and TV shows. But Nathalie Mitchell was intrigued by how they were different.

MS. NATHALIE MITCHELL

00:03:30
Some things were like surprising. Like, they only have one gas station. And they have things that we don't know.

CARDOZA

00:03:35
Like, what?

MITCHELL

00:03:36
Well, we knew about hunting, but we didn't, like, think of it like, no one hunts really in D.C. So it was weird to hear about that they really liked to do it.

CARDOZA

00:03:45
Gifford students, Chase Carlton and Kyle Withers says they loved visiting the different monuments even though D.C. was different from what they'd imagined. For one, they didn't see any protestors and the city was cleaner than they expected. But Chase says in the nation's Capital...

MR. CHASE CARLTON

00:04:00
I was expecting a huge, giant school. It's pretty cool, though.

CARDOZA

00:04:04
Kyle says the trip just wouldn't have been the same if they hadn't met these D.C. teenagers.

MR. KYLE WITHERS

00:04:09
I'm probably going to invite the whole class to be Facebook friends as soon as I get home. They're really cool people.

CARDOZA

00:04:15
Joanna Lewton and Gwen Wilson were amused by all the correspondence.

LEWTON

00:04:19
I know that there have been some kind of romantic interests, shall I say?

WILSON

00:04:23
(unintelligible) I've heard the rumors as well.

LEWTON

00:04:25
So who knows where this could lead.

CARDOZA

00:04:28
Lewton says this collaboration has worked exactly as she hoped. She says this was an educational visit for her D.C. students as well.

LEWTON

00:04:35
Especially in Middle School, they really should be looking beyond themselves and sometimes you really have to be intentional about reminding them to do that. And our kids, they just love their Gifford friends and they really actually want to go to Gifford now.

WILSON

00:04:48
I think that would be an amazing exchange.

LEWTON

00:04:50
Well, one of the things our kids have said, when they go to Gifford, they want to ride horses because some of your kids ride horses...

WILSON

00:04:54
Yeah.

LEWTON

00:04:54
...which are kids think is incredibly cool. Four-wheeling came up, one the boys was posed in front of this huge tractor and our kids are really, really interested.

CARDOZA

00:05:03
Wilson tears up when talking about the friendships that have been formed.

WILSON

00:05:06
It's so cool. You see so many crummy things in the world these days and to have two groups of people who are so far apart in the country and the places that we come from are so different. But yet, here we are together, finding this connection that these kids will never forget.

CARDOZA

00:05:23
The pot-luck dinner is wrapping up and the turkey, chili and lasagna have been eaten. But this isn't the end of the collaboration between these two schools. Lewton and Wilson plan to work together next year to bring more students to D.C. The experience, they say, has taught their students a lesson that money can't buy. That people are the same wherever you go. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.

SHEIR

00:05:48
To see photos of the Gifford and D.C. kids together and to hear Kavitha's original report on the Gifford kids, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:14
After the break, why a plan to spruce up D.C. taxi cabs is putting some drivers in high gear.

MR. JOHN TOWNSEND

00:06:20
It's almost like you have entered a time warp when you enter a cab in the District of Columbia.

SHEIR

00:06:26
That story and more coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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