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E-pals to India

Image: A student from the Bajaj Institute of Learning in Dehradun, India signs a question for KDES students to answer as part of cultural E-Pals exchange.

A student from the Bajaj Institute of Learning in Dehradun, India signs a question for KDES students to answer as part of cultural E-Pals exchange.

Students from Kendall Demonstration Elementary School's (KDES) middle school social studies class traveled this fall beyond the time and space boundaries of their physical classroom to go on an electronic adventure all the way to India, making some new friends along the way and picking up some knowledge of Indian Deaf culture.

It all began when former KDES intern Arathy Manoharan contacted KDES social studies teacher Lia Bengtson about an E-Pal exchange with students in India. Manoharan a graduate student at McDaniel College was volunteering over Winter Break at the Bajaj Institute of Learning (BIL) located in the Himalayan Mountain range in Dehradun, India. She came up with idea of having Bengston's students set up a fun cultural exchange with the BIL students as "E-Pals," a modern twist on traditional Pen Pals.

The exchange occurred over three videos. "The Indian students sent a video with questions to the KDES students, and our students responded with questions of their own," said Bengtson. "The third video was from the students in India answering our students' questions." Manoharan typed up the questions and responses from the Indian students, and Bengtson captioned the videotapes in English, the common written language students from both schools knew.


In the first videotape exchange, each of the 13 students from each of the schools introduced themselves, the KDES students using American Sign Language (ASL) and the BIL students using Indian Sign Language (ISL). Some of the KDES students knew ISL fingerspelling or how to spell their names from Manoharan's presentation in social studies and tried to use it on the videotape. Some of the BIL students practiced using some ASL fingerspelling and signs.

Several of the questions were culturally based. KDES student Makya Sinclair said, "From watching the videos, I learned that people in India tend to share food and eat with their hands, and in America we have individual plates and use forks and knives. This E-pals project made me more curious about the world. I was surprised that the students in India used a different sign language than us." Student Kenneth Garcia shared how the project sparked his curiosity about other countries. "I noticed that the students in India all wear school uniforms, and here we can wear our own clothes," he said.

The students in India were enthusiastic, too. "Our class four students (10- to 12-year-olds) were thrilled to see the response from children at Kendall and were more than eager to answer their questions regarding India," said Manoharan. "It was great to watch the students view the videos. Since they were captioned, the students took turns translating the videos into ISL and in that it was a very successful bilingual lesson.

To further connect with their new E-pal friends, the students put together a gift package to send to the BIL students. The package included such items as Gallaudet University T-shirts, pencils and folders from Gallaudet's Admissions Office, crayons, construction paper and notebooks from KDES, Clerc Center pens and water bottles, American snacks, and a selection of books.

EPals Gift Items