"What's Cool in Your School?!" -- Starr Elementary Going Global

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb.-- We here at NBC Nebraska are taking time to focus on the *positive things* going on in our area schools, and with more technology in the schools, how are students utilizing it?

In this week's "What's Cool in Your School?!" we go inside to Starr Elementary in Grand Island where a program aims to provide students connections all over the world.

Exposing students to different cultures of learning, that's the goal of the Global Read Aloud program which Starr Elementary began just last year. Instead of the normal "pen pal" you may be familiar with, these students are able to connect across the globe through the computer.

Nate Balcom is the Elementary Integration Specialist at GIPS.

"The kids pick up things extrememly quickly. They come to school with a bank of skills. It's nice to hone in what each student knows and then advance them in their levels," says Balcom.

In its second year of the Global Read Aloud program, Starr Elementary has been able to connect students K-5 with other students all across the world.

"Once you share your ideas and what you're learning, they get to know what you're doing, and once they share their ideas, we get to know what they're doing. It's like you're standing in front of them and talking," says Lily Washington, a fifth grader at Starr.

The Global Read Aloud program was started by a teacher in Wisconsin five years ago. Today, 575,000 participants across 60 countries participate around the world.

But, with special programs like this, a bigger budget is necessary and that's where the GIPS Foundation comes in. Traci Skalberg is the Executive Director for the GIPS Foundation.

"They can apply for something between 200 to 2000 dollars that they can't get done with regular school building budgets," says Skalberg.

For a teacher, that extra funding is a big treat for the classroom, especially for a unique program like this.

"We are able to discuss our work back and forth between classes and they actually write in the point of view of characters and the other students reply in that point of view. So, you not only learn about new stories and discussing, but about other cultures, too," says fifth grade teacher Kristin Briggs.

"You can pretty much know what other people think. It's like you're inside their mind," says fifth grader Alieka Matzner.

Every year, the GIPS Foundation is able to help support special programs not normally provided through regular funding. Come Monday, students and teachers will be in for a big surprise as more opportunity gets thrown their way.

"We have 25 grants to award. We have over 25,000 dollars to award. We're going to have a lot of fun presenting it to the kids," says Skalberg.

They says this gives kids exciting exploration at a young age.

"People are clear across the world, and in a way it's like you're talking to them," says Matzner.

So, "What's Cool in Your School?!" If you have something in your district you'd like to highlight, please let us know! You can contact me by email at Josh.Spreiter@NBCNeb.com with your idea. You may get the chance to have your students, faculty or program featured!