Julian students survey smoking habits, other cultures

? Computer project gets kids to see technology as a tool, the world as a diverse but accessible place.

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By DREW CARTER

Preliminary results from surveys conducted in Siberia and on the District 97 website show that Oak Park students smoke much less than their Russian teen counterparts.

The surveys are being conducted as part of Julian Middle School's Virtual Classroom with students in Novosibirsk, Russia. The collaboration aims at improving Russian students' English skills and Julian students' web skills.

But at the heart of the project?#34;part of tech teacher Janet Barnstable's curriculum?#34;is not getting Oak Park students to learn about technology. Technology is never more than a means to an end, she said.

The real goal is twofold.

There's the "very Oak Park" goal of making students even more aware of different cultures and people around the world. And, students learn a way of communicating that will "very much be a part of what they do," Barnstable said.

She said the project had nothing to do with a recent push to make Oak Park smoke-free.

Teaching students how to make graphs with computers is a lot less beneficial than giving them a reason to make a graph, Barnstable said.

And working with differences?#34;religions, cultures, time zones, ages?#34;breaks down barriers. Barnstable has always insisted that her classes include students from different grades.

"That we could talk to people in Russia to see what they think" is eighth-grader Antoinette Evan's favorite part of the project. But the students do very little "talking," as the two schools are 12 time zones apart. Instead, they post messages to one another online.

Outside of smoking, Julian students have found more similarities than differences between themselves and their Russian counterparts. Seventh grader Connor DeFanti said the Russian students, though a bit older, were very similar except for differences caused by their surroundings.

"It's a lot colder there," DeFanti said. (Therefore they play different sports.)

Russian students "probably will be surprised that most Oak Parkers don't smoke because I guess in Russia just about everybody does," Barnstable said.

Results from the survey, which was written by the Russian students and conducted in person on a high school and university campus in Novosibirsk, show that 55 percent of Russian respondents were constant smokers, 23 percent were occasional smokers and just 12 percent had never smoked. The remaining 10 percent tried smoking but didn't like it.

One-half of Russian respondents said they started smoking in sixth or seventh grade, and smoking rates seemed to be reflected across age groups, Julian students said.

A cost comparison showed that smoking one pack of cigarettes a day in Russia would cost the equivalent of six trips to the movies, five or six school books, or 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of apples or oranges.

No one in Oak Park younger than 18, responding to the Julian online survey, has said he or she is a smoker, Barnstable said. She said few high school students have responded, though. Barnstable said that Oak Park "is very anti-smoking," that kids have heard anti-smoking messages in health classes and elsewhere, and that middle-schoolers "are not quite at the age where they decide they'll do it anyway because they think adults are wrong about everything."

Final results of the survey will be ready by May, and will be published on Julian's online CyberTeen Magazine at http://www.op97.org/cyberteen. "I'm looking forward to putting it up on the web," said Kira Webb, a seventh grader working on the project.

Other topics identified for future collaborations with the Russian school?#34;a high school that Barnstable likened to the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora?#34;included, road safety, inventions and the future.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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