Jefferson Jr. High students discuss life in North Korea


Photo Source: The Chicago Tribune

Jefferson Jr. High seventh graders in Social Studies teacher Chris Heffernan’s class engage in a Skype discussion with Will Ripley, an international correspondent for CNN. Ripley is one of the first few CNN reporters to make repeated trips to North Korea.

Ana Turner, Staff Writer

In District 203, kids are introduced to new opportunities through the use of technology within the classroom.  With the introduction of this new technology, such as the Chromebooks, Naperville students are presented with more opportunities than ever to learn.

The district and its teachers have found ways to integrate this technology into their everyday lesson plans, which has opened up new doors for communication between Naperville and once closed-off places like North Korea.

An example of this wider communication was during a lesson about North Korea at Jefferson Junior High School.

After the seventh graders studied the secretive country, their teacher, Chris Heffernan, wanted to expand their learning. Hefferman discovered that CNN had a reporter in North Korea, so he contacted that reporter, Will Ripley, to see if Ripley would be able to talk to his students about the country.

“CNN was broadcasting that they had a reporter that was currently in North Korea and on a whim I messaged him and said if you ever have the chance we would love to Skype with you,” Heffernan said.

After Ripley agreed, the obstacle of setting up a time began. Ripley is currently based out of Tokyo which is a 14 hour time difference from Naperville. After continuous emails, Heffernan and Ripley set up a time.

On Thursday, March 16, the Q&A took place. At 7 a.m. students arrived to ask Ripley questions about what life is actually like in North Korea, how he got access into North Korea and what places he was not allowed to visit while in North Korea.

Even though it was Heffernan who set up the Q&A, it was open to all students and teachers.

Amanda Bert, another seventh grade social science teacher, talked about her feelings towards the experience.

“It was really exciting for me and especially for my students,” Bert said. “We had just finished our unit of study on North Korea, and to say they were left with more questions than answers is an understatement.”

Although this is the first time a Skype Q&A has taken place within his classroom, Heffernan has had experience with worldwide communication in previous years.

“Years ago, I did a video conference project where we hooked up with schools all over the world,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan set up this project so his students could connect with other kids their age from all over the world. The students would stay overnight in order to ask questions of kids in different countries such as China, Japan and Uzbekistan.

With Heffernan’s experience, the Q&A was appreciated by staff at Jefferson. Megan Ptak, the principal at Jefferson, was pleased with the way the Q&A connected the students studies to the real world.

“I think it was a great learning experience for the students and tied in nicely with the curriculum they had just finished learning,” Ptak said.