MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
We're at a rodeo to raise money for the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
He wants to go, too.
Well, get this, a teacher here in the District, Joanna Lewton, heard that story and something about it moved her.
MS. JOANNA LEWTON
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.
Lewton got in touch with the folks in Gifford and an unlikely partnership was born. Kavitha Cardoza brings us the story.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Joanna Lewton, a teacher at Capital City Public Charter School in Northwest D.C. stands next to rows of food dishes.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Gwen Wilson, a parent from Gifford, said she was overwhelmed by Lewton's thoughtfulness when they first spoke on the phone.
MS. GWEN WILSON
I've had huge goosebumps on my arms because I thought this sounds like the most amazing possibility for our trip.
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.
I'd asked where Gwen was and she saw me, Joanna, Gwen, ah, this big hug and it just a connection right away.
Right away, I think that's one reason we made this work so much easier.
Jhared Brooks says students bonded during a scavenger hunt around their school.
MR. JHARED BROOKS
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.
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
Some things were like surprising. Like, they only have one gas station. And they have things that we don't know.
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.
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
I was expecting a huge, giant school. It's pretty cool, though.
Kyle says the trip just wouldn't have been the same if they hadn't met these D.C. teenagers.
MR. KYLE WITHERS
I'm probably going to invite the whole class to be Facebook friends as soon as I get home. They're really cool people.
Joanna Lewton and Gwen Wilson were amused by all the correspondence.
I know that there have been some kind of romantic interests, shall I say?
(unintelligible) I've heard the rumors as well.
So who knows where this could lead.
Lewton says this collaboration has worked exactly as she hoped. She says this was an educational visit for her D.C. students as well.
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.
I think that would be an amazing exchange.
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...
...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.
Wilson tears up when talking about the friendships that have been formed.
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.
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.
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.
After the break, why a plan to spruce up D.C. taxi cabs is putting some drivers in high gear.
MR. JOHN TOWNSEND
It's almost like you have entered a time warp when you enter a cab in the District of Columbia.
That story and more coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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