A welcome the Capital City students made for the Gifford students.
Last October, Joanna Lewton a teacher at Capital City Public Charter School in Northwest D.C., heard a story on Metro Connection about a group of Illinois students who were scrimping and saving to raise money to come to D.C.
"I was so impressed by how hard they were working," says Lewton. "There are budget cuts, and it's really hard to raise money for things."
She got in touch with her counterparts in Gifford, and a partnership 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 and smiley faces at the end of the pages.
Finally, it was time to meet. Lewton and Gwen Wilson, a parent organizing the Gifford trip, took to each other right away. Students found they had a lot of things in common, as well. Many liked the same music, video games and television shows. But Natalie Mitchell was intrigued by how they were different.
"Some things were surprising," says Mitchell. "They only have one gas station. They do things we don't have, like hunting. We thought no one really hunts, so it was weird to hear they really like to do it."
Gifford student Kyle Withers says he loved visiting the different monuments, even though D.C. was different from what he'd imagined. For one, they didn't see any protestors, and the city was cleaner than they expected. Withers says the trip just wouldn't have been the same if they hadn't met these D.C. teenagers.
"I'm probably going to invite the whole class to be Facebook friends as soon as I get back," he says. "They are really cool people!"
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 should be looking beyond themselves and sometimes we should be intentional about it," says Lewton. "Our kids love their Gifford friends, and they actually want to go to Gifford, too. One of the things they want to do is ride horses, four wheelers and huge tractors. They think it's cool they get to do that."
Wilson tears up when talking about the friendships that have formed.
"It's so cool," says Wilson. "You see such crummy things in the world... here are two groups of people, the places are so different, but finding this connection these kids will never forget."
Lewton and Wilson plan to work together next year to bring more students to the District. The experience, they say, has taught their students a lesson that money can't buy: People are the same wherever you go.
[Music: "You're My Best Friend" by The Section Quartet on The String Quartet Tribute to Queen]
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