Students at Hill View Elementary School have discovered they share many interests with their international pen pals: rock music, sports, movies, computer games, TV and even fishing.
They also share a computer-and-satellite link with Russian fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in Troitsk, about 10 miles outside the Soviet capital of Moscow.This twist via modern technology on the traditional pen-pal relationship allows Hill View kids to type a letter on a computer keyboard and in 20 seconds have that electronic mail travel thousands of miles via satellite and arrive on a computer in a Soviet classroom. But a 12-hour time difference generally means responses from pen pals take at least a day.
"It's neat to have this because no other school has it," said Hill View sixth-grader Stacy Boyce. "It's fun to send letters to Russian kids and find out they like the same stuff we do."
"Dear Julia Kuznetsova," reads one of Stacy's electronic letters to her Soviet pen pal. "My name is Stacy. I am 12. I have blond hair and green eyes. I have two sisters and one brother. I like football, basketball, soccer, volleyball and boys. Especially boys. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Dear Stacy," came Julia's reply. "I found your town on a map. Tell me about your town, please. My town is small but there is a river and a forest. I play the piano. But I don't like very much classical music. I like rock music. I like to ski, skate and swim and go to the cinema and read interesting books. I haven't boyfriends. Write soon."
While the Hill View-Troitsk link has been buzzing almost daily since January, local reporters got a first-hand look this past week when the school invited Soviet on-site treaty inspectors to send messages to their homeland.
Soviet inspectors Nickolay Shcheklein and Oleg Shulga took advantage of the opportunity to send electronic letters, written in English with the help of an interpreter, to Troitsk explaining their inspection duties in Magna under terms of a U.S.-Soviet treaty limiting medium- and short-range nuclear missiles.
Shcheklein and Shulga, accompanied by a crowd of news people and photographers, visited Hill View classrooms, listened to kids read a few of their pen pal letters, passed out souvenir pins to some lucky students and delivered an impromptu lesson on Soviet geography.
In response to students' questions, Shcheklein and Shulga answered in English that: They like Utah and its people; they have visited San Francisco and Washington, D.C.; there are seven Soviet inspectors stationed here; and Soviet children usually begin studying English in fifth grade, although some start sooner.
"Are you a Russian?" third-grader Brandon Crose asked Hill View PTA president Brent Peterson. "Where are the Russians?"
Brandon's confusion was understandable, since 35 strange adults were trooping around the school, 4405 S. 1025 East. And in a way, his questions illustrated what Hill View kids have discovered - Soviets and Americans are more alike than they are different.
The computerized electronic mail link is officially known as the MIX project and funded through grants made by McGraw-Hill Publishing and Tandy Corp. Fifty U.S. schools are participating, as are 50 other schools in Europe. Hill View is the only U.S. elementary school on the link, and the only MIX project school in the western states.
The link also allows Hill View students to be computer pen pals with students at Warmbrook School in Chapel-en-le-Firth, Derbyshire, England, northwest of London. But Tuesday all the attention was on Troitsk, location of the Kurchatov Atomic Energy Institute. The Hill View kids' Soviet pen pals are children of institute scientists.
Hill View is the school whose computerized model of a light rail system running through Salt Lake Valley drew national attention last year for its innovative approach to teaching problem-solving techniques. That project caught the attention of Tandy and McGraw-Hill, who invited Hill View to apply for a MIX Project grant.