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Highland Park & Deerfield TribLocal, Chicago, Illinois

Fifteen sixth, seventh and eighth graders were honored with First Prize at the Illinois Community Problem Solving Competition. The team, which includes five students in rural Jordan, uses books to build bridges of friendship and to improve critical thinking skills.

The project, “Tefkiir,” means “think” in Arabic and is facilitated by Emily Scott, a Peace Corps volunteer and former Elm Place student. Students at both schools are selecting and sending books to one another. The American students sent picture books that promote higher level thinking to Jordan. Their teammates translated the books into Arabic and read them to younger classmates. The American students are waiting for books from Jordan that they will share with students within District 112.

The team will represent Illinois at the International Problem Solving Competition in Bloomington, Indiana June 6-9. Project Tekfiir will be judged alongside community service projects from 40 states and foreign countries, including Singapore and Australia. The team hopes to raise funds to bring their Jordanian teammates to the U.S. to participate in the competition in Indiana.

Using technology, including Skype and email, students from two very different cultures are breaking down cultural barriers and stereotypes. As Maya Garfinkel, a seventh grader, explained, “When I think of Tefkiir, I think of a personal connection. I feel as though I am breaking my own unconscious stereotypes about Jordanians and Muslims.”

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