In our Tohoku Virtual English Classes, ASIJ high school and middle school students teach English through monthly Skype lessons to 5th and 6th grade students at three elementary schools in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture.
In the middle school, we have partnered with two 6th grade classes at Ikawa Elementary School. Over the last few months, our students, “teachers,” at ASIJ have connected with Ikawa students through basic English conversation, songs and games. We were thrilled for the opportunity for ten of our students to travel to Ofunato to finally meet those classes face-to-face. Along with ASIJ teachers Anita Gesling, Kathleen Nickle and Jamie Richard, as well as program coordinator Steve Mita and parent volunteer Maya Moore, the group traveled 500 km to Iwate Prefecture.
During our drive along the coast to Ofunato, we saw many of the lasting effects of the earthquake and tsunami. One especially poignant reminder was the school playground, one of the few flat areas of land in the town. After the devastation, the area was used to build temporary housing, where families still live today.
At Ikawa, ASIJ students taught two classes to the 6th grade students they had previously known only through Skype. The interactions in the classroom and the excitement of Ikawa and ASIJ students connecting over shared hobbies and tastes was a rewarding sight. Students also played energetic English games with the 5th graders. It was exciting to see students with limited proficiency in each other’s language engage in real communication. During recess and lunch time, ASIJ students also played with the Ikawa kids on the very small stretch of remaining playground.
Over the next few months, we will continue the Skype classes with these students, building on the friendships formed during our visit.
Throughout the trip, all the students took steps out of their comfort zone to communicate and make new friends. We all left with a deeper understanding of what Tohoku families and children have experienced and the challenges they still face. (Kathleen Nickle, MS English Teacher)
Our Virtual English Classes’ trip to Tohoku has also been featured in The Tohkai Shimpo: