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Technology brings faraway friends back home

Pescadero student travels to New Zealand

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:04 pm, Thu Oct 4, 2012.

While Johnny Lichtenberg’s Pescadero Middle School classmates are in the midst of an afternoon lesson, he’s just waking up in Christchurch, New Zealand. Since Sunday, he’s been living in the future.

Crossing the international date line will do that to a kid.

Lichtenberg’s learning will be happening outside the classroom as he embarks on an independent study adventure for the next three months with his parents, Betsy and Tom Lichtenberg.

“I feel excited, nervous,” Johnny Lichtenberg said last week. Before he left, he did preliminary research on Google Maps, using the “Street View” option to take virtual tours of sites in New Zealand’s South Island.

The Lichtenbergs, whose home is in La Honda, agreed that while Coastside living is beautiful, it can be isolating.

“I want (Johnny) to know that there are different cultures and ways of living that are possible,” Betsy Lichtenberg said.

Lichtenberg’s English teacher, Randy Vail, wants other students to know, too.

As part of Lichtenberg’s independent curriculum, Vail hopes that he will share his experiences with the class by video chat via the messenger service


“I kind of like the idea of all that technical connectivity,” said Vail. “I think it would be very interesting and meaningful for students to see one of their classmates from video or video phone on the other side of the planet a day ahead … It’s good to know what’s going on on the other side of the world, don’t you think?”

Lichtenberg also has his own ideas. He’s planning on keeping a video blog using his father’s smartphone and writing reports to present to the class when he returns.

Morning lessons are of his parents’ design. For example, they might focus on studying earthquake science, and, after lunch, the family may visit an area affected by the earthquake that devastated the city in February 2011.

Lichtenberg, who enjoys cooking, will walk to shop for groceries at markets near his apartment, and learn about budgeting and the food of New Zealand, which is heavily influenced by English and native Maori cuisines.

The Lichtenbergs also hope to see penguins and dolphins, ride a zip line, and take a train trip that will carry them over an alpine pass.

Betsy, a technical writer, and Tom, a software architect, decided to take advantage of the geographic flexibility of their jobs. Anywhere there’s an Internet connection, they can work — and play.

The goal is to create an enriching educational experience, instead of buying it as a package from an institution, said Betsy Lichtenberg.

Instead of a nearby private school, the family chose an enrichment opportunity 19 hours ahead and nearly 8,000 miles away from California.

“I’ll miss my friends,” Johnny Lichtenberg admitted.

His parents have already enrolled him in an art class with other kids being homeschooled in Christchurch, where they hope he’ll make local friends.

Some things are still familiar even that far way — notably the Pacific Ocean.

“We’ll be right next to the ocean,” said Lichtenberg, “closer than we are now.”

Keep up with Lichtenberg’s New Zealand adventures at

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