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Distance depends on your perspective

This week we deal with some very long distances - and how kids think about crossing them.

Whether you're a teen in rural Nebraska or rural China, the rest of humanity can seem pretty far away. Like many teens, you might ponder that tradition of putting on your walking shoes or finding the right wheels to head out of town. And who knows? Play it right, and you might change the world.

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That's just what 3,000 children from around the globe were thinking last week when they joined a youth summit of problem-solvers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (see page 17). Ninety-four of them traveled the distance the old-fashioned way. The others joined in courtesy of computers and translation technology distributed by the university. Forget physical, cultural, even linguistic differences. Forget time zones, for that matter. These kids all made room to talk about their pretty impressive dreams and their equally admirable determination to make some of them a reality.

It's a way of being part of a broader world that might hold hope for small communities struggling to stay intact. Distance isn't the only challenge. In the United States, many of the schools that tie together a community are consolidating, despite the current vogue for small classes and a nurturing environment (story, right). As populations dwindle and financial problems bear down, schools are joining forces farther from home. Sometimes that's good. But some kids are finding that despite the interest in reaching beyond home base, that foundation is important - and worth preserving.

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