Class connects with Vietnam
  • | Cary News | April 25, 2010 03:02 PM

A group of Triangle veterans did more than bridge time and distance to bury the demons of their wartime experiences when they made the trip to Vietnam they dubbed the "Bridge Back" last year.

Veterans from the Triangle, including Bob Matthews, right, returned to Vietnam in November.

The 12 local Vietnam veterans also laid the groundwork for another bridge - between some Vietnamese and western Wake students.

The vets brought suitcases full of medical supplies, pencils, paper and cash when they visited Vietnam in November.

They also gave students there a few dozen 5-by-8 brown envelopes in which students from Cary and Athens Drive high schools had enclosed bits of themselves: pictures, narratives, e-mail addresses, books, a hockey puck and other mementos.

What started with e-mails between those Vietnamese students and their American pen pals is now expanding into a distance learning relationship between the two schools.

Russell Page, who teaches the Lessons of Vietnam elective at Cary High, will soon start sharing questions drafted by his classes with two Vietnamese teachers.

Eventually he and the teachers there hope to teach one another's classes and allow students to collaborate on group projects.

The idea is to broaden the American students' view of Vietnam beyond the conflict there.

So far, he said, his students have learned a lot about Vietnamese culture - including a fascination with American culture - simply by exchanging e-mails with students there.

"They gain the kinds of insights you're just not going to get out of a textbook or a class," Page said.

Bob Matthews, the retired Wake teacher who helped develop the Vietnam course, said it is now taught at 700 high schools in 31 states.

But the budding partnership between the classes at Cary High and Athens Drive is unique, to his knowledge.

It's part of a wider effort by his nonprofit Bridge Back Foundation to deepen Americans' understanding of Vietnam.

"The story of Vietnam never got its fair shake in history," Matthews said.

Joe Gross, a Cary High senior in the class, is looking forward to hearing a new perspective from Vietnamese students and their teachers - one different from what he's learned in class, on the news and in movies.

"Everything we see about Vietnam is from the American point of view," Gross said.

"So it will be good to hear about it straight from the people there."

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