SPRING HILL — It used to be pen pals. Now it is e-mail buddies, students using a host of new electronic means to make friends around the world.
This year, Heidi Schlyer's fifth-grade students at Notre Dame Catholic School reached out to their e-mail buddies through Skype technology, which allows users to see the person to whom they are speaking.
And so it was one Sunday in March when the students went to school at 9 p.m. to talk to new friends halfway around the world in Vietnam.
"It was 8 a.m. in Vietnam," Schlyer noted.
The call lasted about an hour, and the children could see and speak with each other. "There was lots of screaming, laughing and giggling," Schlyer said. "Seeing each other's faces was really exciting for them."
The grand experiment, which concluded recently when the students gathered to sign a book containing photos and e-mails from their new pals, began in January when University of Central Florida professor Thomas Murray visited the class to tell them about the country.
Murray had visited the school last year when Schlyer was teaching first grade and he had a grandson in the class.
A former student of Murray's, Liz Henderson, now teaches at the Singapore International School in Da Nang in Vietnam. She and Schlyer, who were introduced last year, instantly connected.
The Notre Dame students went to their newly revamped technology lab when it was time to e-mail their buddies. Henderson used a list from Schlyer to match their students. The number of children didn't exactly match, so a few Notre Dame fourth-graders were invited to participate.
As the students corresponded, they got to know their counterparts and vise versa. The friendships were highlighted when they got to meet them on a big, white Smart Board during the Skype call.
"They learned they were so similar," Schlyer said. Both cultures include soccer, baseball, pets, computers and similar subjects in school.
Lots of photos were taken to remember the call and to help illustrate the next part of the project, a book of memories dubbed Good Morning From Viet Nam. Students wrote reflections and drew pictures of their relationships and what they had learned about their friends.
The book also contains photographs of Murray teaching them and of the Skype call. The students commemorated the events by signing the quarter-inch-thick book.
Lindsey Statler, 11, was pals with Mary (she didn't know her last name). "I learned that she has two dogs and a sister," Lindsey said. "Her house is very colorful. I think it's more colorful than most houses. We both like animals, and hopefully we'll be able to get together some day. She's 11, also."
Kyle Lovelock, 11, met Orion Leen Verduijn. "We're alike because we both like soccer and we both like playing sports. Vietnam, even though they're a different country, they're very much like our country," Kyle said.
"He said that in Vietnam where he lives, their school is like our school, but in other places it's kind of poor. He said he wants to help them when he grows up. He would like to become an engineer."