TIFFIN - A Tiffin middle school program is turning to the keyboard to bring faraway places closer to home for students.
The International Cultural Center is trying to connect students, and to some extent Tiffin residents, with people beyond the borders of Seneca County.
The program, directed in its second year by retired Spanish teacher Joe Moore, also tries to take advantage of international students who attend Tiffin's two universities as well as with families who moved there from other countries.
Preparing students for jobs that demand that they be in constant communication with people around the world is one goal. Another goal is to help create images of people from other cultures before prejudices are formed.
"We want the kids to look at the other countries and see that they are filled with people just like them," Mr. Moore said.
Unlike language courses, the International Cultural Center at the Tiffin Middle School attempts to expands their horizons by pairing with schools in other countries.
The matches are facilitated by the Teddy Bear Project, a program through the International Education and Resource Center, which helps students and teachers use the Internet to learn more about each other.
Tiffin middle school students are paired with two schools in Spain as well as classrooms in Denmark, Thailand, Pakistan, and Lebanon.
"Primarily the exchanges are handled via e-mail," said Mr. Moore, who spent 33 years teaching Spanish in Tiffin.
Teachers handle the e-mail exchanges in class in case parents are leery of their children giving out their e-mail addresses to overseas recipients, although some students have furthered their contacts at home.
Superintendent Donald Coletta said the program has met an enthusiastic reception. Most of its funding is from the Kalnow Foundation, established by National Machinery LLC.
"The Kalnow family made the donation in part as encouragement to help our students understand different cultures," Mr. Coletta said.
The program is reaching out to the area's Japanese families that arrived in Tiffin to work on Japanese companies that have set up shop there.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for our students to interact with them," he said.
Tiffin's board of education is set to approve a $25,900 contract with Mr. Moore at tonight's meeting. The contract would run through June 9.
The International Cultural Center was instrumental in bringing the Art Miles Mural Project to Tiffin, an international collaboration that will culminate with 12 miles' worth of artwork to be displayed at the pyramids in Egypt.
The program has undertaken language classes for adults looking to learn foreign phrases before traveling. Last year two classes of 15 adults each filled up quickly, he said.
Mr. Moore, who has taught in South America, sees his role as a resource facilitator for teachers as well.
"One of the focuses is to help teachers who don't have the time to seek out the resources for their classes," he said. "I tell them I'm here to do things for you that you don't have time to do yourself," he said.