Students compare cultures
Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 3, 2008

Book links schools in Tucson, Brazil

Danielle Sottosanti

TUCSON - The two-part bilingual book Dear Friend began with the vision of a Tucson Fulbright scholar and resulted in students from a south Tucson school gaining a deeper understanding of Brazilian culture as well as their own.

Eighteen students in Michell Fredericks' seventh-grade advanced reading and writing class at Challenger Middle School worked with 53 students from a seventh-grade English class in Brazil's Colegio Santos Dumont.

The students never saw each other in person, but, with the help of their teachers and Fulbright scholar Becky Dooley, they created a book that documents their respective societies and cultures from their perspectives.

"The whole objective was to promote mutual understanding and to discover cultural differences and similarities," said Dooley, 24.

Dooley, who is a graduate of the University of Arizona and Sabino High School, worked in Brazil from January to November.

Dooley picked 10 universal themes for the book: love, hate, fear, happiness, sadness, beauty, survival, pain, humor and family.

Each student completed one assignment per theme, with assignments ranging from taking a photograph of something beautiful to writing an essay about a worst fear.

One assignment required students to write letters about what they hate.

Brazilian students wrote about topics such as deforestation and teachers' strikes.

An American student wrote about hating racism and told his Brazilian pen pal about racism he saw in his own neighborhood.

Dooley selected some of the completed assignments for publication.

It was important to include at least one assignment per student, she said.

Selected assignments were compiled in Dear Friend, a book published in Brazil and written half in English and half in Portuguese. Students' work was translated both ways.

Challenger students began working on the project the last school year, when they were sixth-graders, and continued it during the current school year.

During that time, they also became pen pals with the Brazilian students. Some students even e-mailed their pen pals during the summer break, Fredericks said.

Challenger students received copies of the published books at an unveiling party Dec. 11 at the school.

A week later, they reflected on what they learned through their work on the project.

"We have more opportunities," said Brittney Orozco, 12.

Kristian Gonzales, 13, said, "We take things for granted and they don't."

One assignment required the students to photograph something beautiful. At least half of the students in both countries took pictures of their dogs, and many took pictures of family and friends, Dooley said.

"Kids are just kids everywhere," she said.

Both Fredericks and Dooley said they would like to do a similar project next year.