Photos by Rome City Schools and contributed by Jenna Gable
Getting to participate in outside-of-the-box experiences and opportunities is important to educators in Rome City Schools.
One such educator was given the opportunity of a lifetime as she traveled all the way to Tokyo, Japan to participate in the International Educators to Japan program over the summer break.
Jenna Gable, fifth grade ELA teacher at West End Elementary School, applied to the International Educators to Japan program after one of her previous Japanese student’s family proposed that she should try it out.
“Back when I first started teaching, I had a Japanese student whose family had traveled to the United States for five years, and he attended West End. They have since moved back to Japan, but while here, they would attend a school every Saturday in Atlanta that specializes in educating students who primarily speak Japanese. There is where they found out about the program,” said Gable.
“The International Educators to Japan program has been going on for around 40-plus years,” explained Gable. “They send teachers, principals and other people who work with Japanese students (all across the U.S., Canada and Europe) to Japan on scholarships in order to get a feel for Japanese culture, as well as the schooling. They do this so that when students come over, we can help them acclimate better.”
According to their website, the International Educators to Japan program features visits to schools, home stays, regional tours and other activities with the aim of deepening their understanding of Japan’s education system, culture, history and society. The overall goal is to help educators play an active role in the classroom with better knowledge and understanding of Japan.
In recent years, the program has included new activities such as demonstration-type lessons during school visits and exchange of views with Japanese teachers, adding another aspect to the original objectives.
The International Educators to Japan program is extremely competitive, as only 25 educators worldwide were chosen to attend. Gable was one of three teachers from the State of Georgia to participate in this life-changing program.
“I applied online, wrote an essay on my experience with Japanese students and went in for an interview at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta,” explained Gable. “When I got the news that I was chosen to attend the program, I was so thankful and beyond excited. What I experienced was very special and is something that I will never forget.”
During summer break, Gable traveled to Japan for two weeks where she spent three whole days in schools learning about the Japanese culture and how their students learn. The rest of her trip was spent exploring the country, as well as spending two nights immersed in true Japanese culture during a home stay.
“There are certain families who host Americans in the program every year, so we were given the opportunity to truly see how Japanese people live. I stayed with a family in Nara, Japan, which is a rural area right outside of Tokyo,” said Gable. “The home stay gave me the opportunity to see how all of the Japanese students I have taught live while at home. It’s very different from what we are used to but was very interesting.”
While in Nara, Gable was able to attend one of their schools.
She also spent a day in an international private junior and senior high school, which was a completely different experience from the school in Nara. “The idea behind this particular school is that they prepare their students to attend a university outside of Japan. You could tell it was a very competitive and rigorous learning atmosphere, but the knowledge these students possessed was incredible,” explained Gable.
During one of the school visits, Gable was asked to teach a demo lesson to a group of students.
“In all of Japan’s elementary schools, they are taught an English class once a week. They wanted us to come in and show them what a typical English lesson would be like in the United States, so I taught a lesson to around 32 second graders that day. It was fun, but challenging for sure,” recalled Gable.
Of course, it would be a sin to travel to Japan and not sightsee. Gable visited several places during her tour of the country, which included the Fushimi Inari Shrine (1,000 torii gates) in Kyoto, Miyajima Island and the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple) in Kyoto. Her favorite, however, was getting to tour the city of Hiroshima.
“As a part of our curriculum for my fourth through sixth- grade classes, we read a book called “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.” We actually visited her peace memorial where I was able to fold a crane and place it with the others, and because I have been reading this book about Sadako with my kids, that visit was so special,” explained Gable.
Gable plans to use her experiences to not only widen the possibilities for the Japanese students she teaches, but to also teach English-speaking students.
“When I got back to West End, I put together a short presentation for my fifth-grade students. The one thing they absolutely loved was the fact that Japanese students have a mandatory home economics class where they learn to cook and sew,” explained Gable. “The next day, we all wrote opinion pieces on whether or not West End should have a home economics class. Some of my students even created a petition to have home economics added to our activity rotation, and had other classmates sign it during recess. They are hoping to present it to Dr. Drummond fairly soon.
“It is so neat that my students took some of my experiences and used them to create opportunities for themselves,” smiled Gable. “I hope that I can continue to inspire them and help them to be their best selves through this experience.”