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Skype helps Lake Placid students learn and connect

June 4, 2012

LAKE PLACID - Eighth-grade students at the Lake Placid Middle-High School didn't have to leave the building to spend some quality time with a high-profile sports journalist on Tuesday, May 22.

Meanwhile, 12th grade students in a model Organization of American States class spoke briefly with a representative Bolivian ambassador, although technology issues cut the session short.

Both classes used Skype, a program that lets users communicate over the Internet through voice, video and instant messaging.

Article Photos

Photo/Chris Morris
Students at the Lake Placid Middle High School use Skype on May 22.

Angela Carlisto's eighth-grade English class and Keith Clark's eighth-grade social studies class gathered in the library shortly after 2 p.m. for a question-and-answer session with Jeremy Schaap, a sportswriter from New York City who has won six Emmy Awards for his work.

Schaap, the son of journalist and broadcaster Dick Schaap, is best known for his work on several ESPN programs, including "SportsCenter," "Outside the Lines" and "E:60." He also wrote two books: "Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing" and "Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics."

Carlisto said a student's parent, Mara Smith, found out her class was covering the book and movie of "Cinderella Man" and mentioned that she knew Schaap personally. Smith asked Carlisto if she wanted to set something up over Skype, which led to Tuesday's session.

"We had just finished watching a film in my class and talked about the hard job of a screenwriter to rewrite a movie so that it fits the stage and potentially the changes that they had to make," Carlisto said.

"When you study history, sometimes you don't get the full human-interest story," she added. "We've shown 'Cinderella Man' in the past, and we thought this would be a great opportunity for the kids to get the human side of what the Great Depression really was."

The technology wasn't perfect; the connection froze a few times, making it difficult to understand everything Schaap said. But for the most part, Schaap was able to provide long, thoughtful answers to the questions asked by students, who appeared to be fully engaged with their special guest.

One student asked Schaap what it was like to see his book "Cinderella Man" played out on the big screen with award-winning actors like Russell Crowe (James Braddock), Renee Zellweger (Mae Braddock) and Paul Giamatti (Joe Gould). The movie also stars Craig Bierko as Braddock's opponent, Max Baer, and was directed by Ron Howard.

Schaap said the movie took some liberties with the story, but he liked it.

"The movie starts off: He's (Braddock) fighting for the light heavyweight championship at that point, he comes home, and the family is all around him," Schaap said. "He didn't have kids until he was already struggling as a fighter."

Another student asked Schaap about the portrayal of Baer, the man Braddock beat for the heavyweight championship in 1935 despite overwhelming odds. The film portrays Baer as an intimidating man who at one point taunts Braddock's wife.

"Do you find there to be a difference in how the movie portrayed him and what your research revealed in real life?" the student asked Schaap.

"Max Baer is a very different character in my book and in real life than what he was portrayed as in the film," Schaap said. "His son was very outspoken about the liberties the film took with the portrayal of his father. He was very disappointed. He seemed very much like a cartoon villain. He was a much more complex guy, a much more likeable guy."

Schaap also talked about how inspirational Braddock was during the Great Depression. His rags-to-riches story gave people hope during an otherwise bleak time in history, Schaap said.

Eighth-grader Forrest Ledger said being able to talk to an author whose book he had read in class was a great experience.

"I thought it was really cool just that he would actually talk to us, just like a random group of eighth-graders," he said. "In his busy day, it seems nice that he would actually find time to answer our questions about his book and the movie based on his book."

Ledger said talking with Schaap inspired him to read more of his work, including his book about Jesse Owens.

Schaap spoke to the students from a hotel room in Milwaukee, Wis. Later Tuesday night, Schaap was master of ceremonies for a charity event hosted by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

While the eighth-graders spoke with Schaap in the library, Bill Duffany's OAS class was in a conference room one floor up, using Skype to speak with Bolivian Ambassador Dayana Rios.

The class will travel to SUNY Plattsburgh in June to participate in a competition with other high schools from across the region. Representing Bolivia, the students will try to pass resolutions that help its country and its allies.

"Normally the class would go to Ottawa or Washington, but because this is possible, we thought we'd try this," Duffany said of using Skype.

Students asked Rios questions about foreign policy to make sure their research matched up with the real thing. The Skype connection cut out before they could finish, and Duffany rescheduled a conference phone call with Rios, which took place Wednesday.

Middle-high school librarian Sara Johns said using technology like Skype expands educational opportunities for students and saves the district money. She said bringing someone like Schaap to the school could cost thousands of dollars, while a 30-minute Skype session is free.

District Superintendent Randy Richards said he hopes the district can expand its use of technology so classrooms can connect with more people. He thanked Smith for getting in touch with Schaap to coordinate last week's event.



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