Thursday, January 18, 2001

Students e-mail questions to Antarctican sojourner

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Debbie Day's brother went to live in Antarctica, she put him to work.

        In an avalanche of e-mails, anthropologist Jeff Day is teaching his sister's sixth-graders all about the frozen continent.

[photo] Danielle Starks, a sixth-grader at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, looks at a display of pictures and e-mails her class has received from scientist Jeff Day, brother of teacher Debbie Day (background).
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        He's answered questions about how many layers of clothes he wears, where he lives, what he eats and what wildlife he sees — questions posed by 40 students in two sixth-grade social studies classes at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in Symmes Township.

        Mr. Day, 26, arrived Oct. 27 at the South Pole. He's a general assistant for Raytheon Co., which provides military and commercial electronics products and services. The students started writing in November and will continue until he leaves Feb. 14.

        “I want learning to be fun,“ Miss Day said. “I've never been one to just open a book and read it from there. I want them to have life experiences and really do things in class that are going to engage them.“

        Engage is an understatement.

        Students flooded the anthropologist with so many e-mails that Miss Day had to limit them to two students e-mailing per day.

        “One question I always get is, "How many layers of clothes do you wear?'” said Mr. Day, via e-mail. “They love to ask questions about living in such a cold environment. It's really not bad, and I explain to them how you really get used to it.”

[photo] Jeff Day is pictured at the South Pole.
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        Curious students ask him about postage, money, rules and laws, what he does for work and fun, what he eats, where he lives, how they celebrate the holidays and more.

        “I also get wildlife questions, which I try to answer as best I can, but there is no wildlife here at the South Pole,” Mr. Day said. “It is nothing but ice two miles deep and for hundreds of miles in every direction. Now that is something hard for them to imagine. Why would you want to live at a place like this?“

        Every student has acquired a favorite bit of information about Antarctica and the South Pole from Mr. Day — like the fact that toilet seats there are Styrofoam.

        Eleven-year-old Danielle Starks is intrigued that the ground is two miles under the ice. “It's really dangerous and if you don't follow the flags, the ice could break and there's no one to help you,“ the West Chester girl said.

        Kids are impressed that Mr. Day and his colleagues can walk around the geographic South Pole and step into different time zones. “You can hold the pole, and you're pretty much holding the world,” said Amy Stevens, 11, of Mason. ""Everything goes to that one point.”

        Students have sent him care packages of Kit Kats, disposable cameras, popcorn, CDs and books. In turn, he's sent them Antarctica pictures, posters and books.

        “He's really brought Antarctica to life,“ Miss Day said. “It's not a continent a lot of people visit. I want them to see Antarctica for what it really is, not what they think it is. A lot of people think it's just a block of floating ice.“

        When Mr. Day told friends he was going to the South Pole, they asked him where it is. It shocks him how many people don't know that the South Pole is as far south as you can get.

        “I could only hope that by helping these kids learn about Antarctica, they will not only know more about this place, but maybe get interested in the rest of the world outside the United States,” he said.

        For now, the students are thrilled to have this personal pipeline to the South Pole.

        “I like hearing from someone who's actually in the South Pole because it's better than looking in books,” said Rachel Gauthier, 12, of Maineville. “If we have some information we can't get on the Internet, we can e-mail him.”

        When Mr. Day leaves Antarctica, he'll prepare for another adventure — sea kayaking 1,200 miles from Vancouver to Haines, Alaska, his home base. His sister is already thinking about the educational possibilities.


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