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'Out of Eden' and across the Sewickley Valley

| Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Amelia Pribik photographed the red bricks on the side of the Edgeworth police station.

To her, the building signifies safety as she looks up at it every time she's headed to the park or playground.

As her friends ventured to Beaver Street, Amelia watched as they approached strangers to ask questions, and, to her surprise, each was answered with smiles and warm greetings.

“I realized that a lot of people here are just really nice,” said Amelia, a fifth-grader at Edgeworth Elementary School. “There's a lot of small things that make Sewickley what it is.”

Fifth-graders in the Quaker Valley School District have spent the last several weeks learning about the world and how the Sewickley Valley is a small part of a much larger picture, as they took part in the “Out of Eden” initiative.

Through the project, they've learned to slow down and take a closer look at the world around them while exchanging stories and differing perspectives and connecting with those in different socio economic regions across the globe.

“Out of Eden” trails reporter Paul Salopek's 21,000-mile journey on foot across the world, where he photographs, videotapes and shares the lives of people often not talked about in the news.

An initiative of Project Zero at the Harvard School of Education allows students to follow along on Salopek's journey while participating in their own walks. Connected through the internet, “walking parties” from schools partnered across the globe allow students to share photos and stories about their own towns and daily lives.

Teachers at Edgeworth and Osborne elementary schools learned about the initiative through a professional development day the district hosted last year.

“It just seemed like the perfect fit, it matched with our curriculum and fit perfectly with what we're doing in class,” said Lara Grogan, fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at Osborne.

The project includes six steps, including having the students draw maps of their neighborhoods to create a snapshop of where they come from and taking neighborhood walks to observe the environment with fresh eyes. It was there they took pictures of intricate details, like a close up of a squirrel or carvings on the inside of a willow tree in Way Park.

They listened to neighbors' or parents' stories about their experiences living in the community and documented their everyday lives — including Thanksgiving dinner — through video or slideshow. With each multimedia presentation, the students wrote about their experiences and uploaded them to share with their “walking partners” from countries that included Australia, Italy, Switzerland and Ghana. Each class had its own set of “walking partners.”

The project forces the students to see things from a different perspective looking closely and slowing down and talking to others from different backgrounds.

“They might see things they might have missed when they're going about their daily lives,” said Edgeworth fifth-grade science and social studies teacher Brigid Robertson, who worked on the project with librarian Gabriella Miller.

The postings from students at other schools spurred conversations at Edgeworth and Osborne about what's going on in other parts of the world.

Dane Thomas, 11, was most impressed by a photo of a beach a student posted from Accra, Ghana. Another picture from Ghana — where homeless people were laying in the street — worried Dane. He was afraid they might be injured.

“It makes you feel bad,” he said.

The students began to see the world differently. They make connections.

“I think it opened up their eyes — they're not thinking so egocentrically,” Robertson said.

This led to conversations about what it's like to be a refugee and talks about the hemisphere.

And the best part? The students were begging their teachers to let them learn.

The project has been a hit in the classroom — and every student is learning in some way, said Edgeworth Principal Carol Sprinker.

“I think the most important part is that it benefits every single student,” she said. “They're taking the opportunity to slow down and notice the everyday.”

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