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Friends, Romans....

South County, Halley students learn Greek, Roman history together.

Wearing togas and carrying symbols of ancient societies, ninth-grade students in Sue Funesti's history class at South County Secondary School welcomed their eager students from Halley Elementary school for a morning of Greek and Roman culture.

"We have the same topics of ancient Greece and Rome on the Standards of Learning tests in the spring," said Funesti.

During the summer, Funesti began talking with Halley third-grade teacher Jennifer Buchko about some kind of program that would bring the two schools together.

"We thought this would be a fabulous opportunity for our kids to participate together," Buchko said.

The students began exchanging letters in October, with each South County student writing to a Halley student to talk about the old societies. The Greco-Roman exchange had generated a buzz between the two schools, with students eager to meet the "buddy" they'd been writing to for two months.

Over two days, three groups of Halley students boarded a bus and took the short drive to South County, where they were greeted by 10 group leaders, carrying pictures of urns, columns and other cards to create groups of four or five students.

Once inside the school, students visited 10 stations set up in the library, each designed by a team of South County students to teach topics ranging from warriors and art to gods and goddesses and government.

"The kids are just thrilled to be here," Buchko said, standing in the library watching her students laughing while learning about the social structure of ancient Greece. "They're so engaged in learning, I can tell just from looking around."

SOUTH COUNTY students were responsible for researching their topics and creating a fun activity for the Halley students that would quiz them on the information they were teaching, said Ronielle Romney, an English teacher. "We just started reading 'The Odyssey' last week, but we've already gone through all this in history class. They now have a solid understanding of the societies."

Before meeting with the Halley students, the ninth graders gave their presentations to their classmates, Romney said, to make sure everyone was prepared.

"They got their first grades based on their peer presentations and will be graded again after today," she said. "The kids really went all out for this, they've been really excited."

The schools will team up again in the spring, when Halley students will have the chance to teach the history of Africa and China to the South County students.

After a morning that featured catapult basketball, trivia games on SmartBoards and memory games on gods, goddesses and mythology, the students paired up with their buddies and ate lunch together while a play about King Midas and the Golden Touch was performed.

"It was so cool to meet and interact with the kids," said Vianne Rifarael, still wearing her toga over a T-shirt and jeans.

When the Halley students were enjoying themselves learning from the South County students, "we had so much more fun," added Matt Karwel, adding that he and his team were already enjoying the time with their young friends.

The students were "a little surprised" by how well-behaved their Halley buddies were, said Emily Catino, while Angie Lee and Hamza Rahimi "can't wait to see" what the third-graders will have for them in the spring.

"I loved these kids, they were so much fun," said Julian Parker, a green laurel wreath around his head.

The morning of learning had gone faster than Laura Tamburelli had expected, which gave them "more time" to play with the students.

However, "some kids just couldn't focus, they just wanted to do the fun stuff," said Philip Basnight.

"The kids behaved really well though," countered Zach Willner. "They were a lot smarter than we expected. The kids I was teaching paid a lot of attention."