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Big Foot students breaking geographical barriers



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July 07, 2010 | 08:41 AM
Walworth — Do students in rural areas think urban high schools are worn-down and filled will gang violence and metal detectors?

Do these urban students suspect rural kids are hillbillies with nothing better to do than tip cows?

What about the viewpoint of students in a posh district?

A Big Foot High School English class recently took part in an experiment that answered these and other questions.

During the past year, students from Big Foot High School, urban Riverside University High School and suburban Nicolet High School worked together while studying literature in their English class.

At the start the project, students admitted to having preconceived notions of the other schools. However, in the end, those prejudices were crushed and some unlikely friendships were formed.

Today, the students still communicate on Facebook and other social networking websites.

In the 2008-09 school year Big Foot English teacher Ashley Houston worked with RUHS teacher Danielle Hartke on the project.

The two teachers met while attending graduate courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The two classes concurrently read Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." Students shared their thoughts on the book on the website www.goodreads.com. The teachers planned their curriculums together and had the online discussions match up.

"My purpose was to see if students interpret text different in an urban or rural environment," Houston said.

Houston said on the surface the students seemed to view the books similarly, but both groups thought the book was taking place in an area that was geographically different than their own.

"They all are thinking of it happening somewhere that they aren't," she said.

The next year, the University of Milwaukee became involved and Nicolet High School was added to the mix.

This group of students read "Aftermath," by Brian Shawver, which deals with issues of class and violence.

The students also traveled to each others schools for a tour and to work on a project.

Houston said her students were apprehensive about the trip into urban Milwaukee. However, when the students arrived, they were pleasantly surprised about the condition of the facility.

"They thought the school would be really violent and that the building would be rough and tough," she said. "The Big Foot kids and the Riverside students really did hit it off well."

At Nicolet High School, students listened to a Holocaust survivor. At Big Foot, students created masks to express their growth during the project.

On one side of the mask, students depicted where they were at the beginning of the course and the other side showed their growth.

Houston, who has lived in numerous large cities including Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco, also had her own preconceived notions when she moved to the Walworth area.

"I've never lived anywhere small like this," she said. "I've never been recognized when I went to the grocery store. There is a sense of anonymity that you can have in a city."

Because of this preconceived notion she said she was concerned when the students from other districts came to Big Foot.

Houston said UW-Milwaukee wants to expand the project in the future.

The college also filmed students in every step of the way and plan on making a documentary about the project.

On UW-Milwaukee's website, a video clip shows students talking about what they learned during the project.

Big Foot's Blaine Romenesko said he used to be afraid of coming to the city, but now feels more comfortable.

"I've learned a lot of respect for a lot of different people," Blaine said. "We are all kind of the same."

Big Foot student Mandy West expressed concerns about social justice.

"It's important to notice what is going on in this world and that its important for us to change what is going on," Mandy said.

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