Students explore world with Singapore Sam
WORTHINGTON -- Frogs are everywhere in teacher Nancy Johnson's classroom at St. Mary's Catholic School in Worthington. The green amphibians hop all over the walls, decorate bulletin boards, and a few of the stuffed variety inhabit corners of the room.
But the most important frog to the St. Mary's first-graders is currently living on the other side of the world, about 9,0000 miles away. His name is Singapore Sam, and he's the class mascot. Instead of hopping his way around the world, Sam traveled to Singapore with Johnson's niece, Melissa Saigh, her husband AJ and their 14-month-old daughter, Linna. The Saighs are living there temporarily for AJ's job and plan to return to their home in Minnetonka in November.
Johnson came up with Singapore Sam as tool to connect her students with another culture and broaden their horizons.
"Since many of her students have never, or may never have the opportunity to travel to Singapore, she thought it would be fun for her students to see parts of Singapore through the eyes of Singapore Sam. Children are much more entertained by a fun stuffed animal traveling around the world, than a couple humans they've never met," explains Melissa on her online blog that details the family's adventures. "Linna and I take Singapore Sam everywhere we go in Singapore. On the SMRT (underground train system in Singapore), to restaurants, the airport. Where we go, Singapore Sam comes with us! Linna loves holding onto Singapore Sam while she's in the stroller, and at one point, Singapore Sam even jumped into the pool with Linna (this was an accident)."
Johnson's classroom has followed Singapore Sam's adventures through photos, but is also able to connect directly on the computer via Skype. There is a 13-hour time difference between the two locales, so Johnson's class usually Skypes with Melissa first thing in the morning, which is evening in Singapore. On Thursday, the class was able to visit over the computer with both Melissa and Linna, who normally would have been sleeping but had been awakened by a storm. It is currently the rainy season in Singapore, and a small monsoon was brewing outside.
After singing a song, much to Linna's delight, individual students took turns in front of the computer camera to ask questions, which ranged from personal (When is Linna's birthday? How do you get your hair to grow so long?) to geographical.
Here are a few of their questions and Melissa's answers:
Can Linna walk yet?
"No, but she can stand by herself, and yesterday she said two new words. She said 'Yes" and 'Whoa!'"
Is Singapore on the equator?
"It's very close to the equator, so that's why it's very hot here. Has Mrs. Johnson shown you where the equator is on a map?"
How many more days are you going to be there?
"About a month and a half."
What do you do during the day?
"Well, my husband goes to work, and Linna and I go to the pool, to her Mandarin Chinese classes, and there's a mall right next door to our apartment, so we go there, too."
Do you have cats over there?
"We have a lot of stray cats in our apartment complex, and they eat the food that we leave out for them at the pool."
How do you say (the word) rosary ?
"I'll have to find out how they say it in Chinese. I'm not sure if they have a word for it, but I'll try to find out."
"Do you have Catholic churches there?"
"Yes they do. My parents came here to visit us, and they went to a church called St. Teresa's."
When does Linna wake up?
"She wakes up at 7:30 a.m., which is 6:30 p.m. your time. So when she is getting up, you are getting ready to eat dinner and go to bed."
Does it look over there like it does here?
"It looks very tropical, and they have palm trees, so it looks quite different than it does in Minnesota. But some things are the same. They have McDonald's here."
In a Skype interview separate from the students, Melissa said that the Singapore experience has been an enjoyable, albeit lengthy vacation, but they are getting anxious to return to the States. A former television producer and reporter, Melissa is now a stay-at-home mom who does occasional work for Twin Cities TV stations.
"I miss my house, cooking in my kitchen, making chili and hotdish," she said. "It's been a big learning experience, a once-in-a lifetime trip ... but I'm getting the itch now to come home, to be back with my family. I miss having fall."
Chatting with the St. Mary's students has helped Melissa feel connected to home, and having Singapore Sam along for the trip has added dimension to the Saighs' explorations of Singapore. When they return to Minnesota in November, she and Linna plan to personally return Singapore Sam to the St. Mary's class.
"Singapore Sam is also collecting little pieces of Singapore memorabilia along his trip, to send back to Mrs. Johnson's first-grade class. So far, he's found some chopsticks, postcards, a Chinese soup spoon and a few other things, to send to Mrs. Johnson's students," writes Melissa on her blog.
"It's kind of opened their eyes to other cultures," said Johnson about what Singapore Sam has brought to her classroom, "to see there's more out there than just Worthington, Minnesota."
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Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.