Tohoku Service Trips and Virtual Classrooms


With the start of the new Japanese school year, the Middle School Student Service Leadership Team (MSSSLT) members held their first Tohoku Virtual English Class with the new sixth graders at Ikawa Elementary School in Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture. The Tohoku Virtual English Classes are an ongoing project in which our students create a fun environment where Japanese elementary school students can learn to enjoy English through Skype video sessions. During this first lesson, they learned each others’ names, ages and interests. Continue reading


Four Years On: Japan Relief Round-Up

Today marks four years since the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, and the aftermath which left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, homes damaged or destroyed, and infrastructure crippled. Although four years have since passed, with Japan receiving support on a global scale, recovery is still an ongoing effort.

Remembering the tragedy, the Elementary, Middle and High Schools each held brief memorials. High School student Madelaine Etherington spoke to the divisions separately, remembering the lives lost, damage done and the significance of that day. Madelaine also reminded students that relief is still a priority.


ASIJ students and faculty have remained dedicated to families displaced in the wake of 3/11 with efforts such as Table for Tohoku, English learning support and KEEP.

Table for Tohoku usually coordinates with the ASIJ kitchen in order to provide healthy food to students, faculty and staff. Part of the profits from sales of snacks such as parfaits is donated to provide fresh produce to families in temporary housing. Last December, however, saw a deviation from this model in the form of a Toy Drive. The Table for Tohoku HS Student Club collected and donated about ¥100,000 in addition to toys for children of disaster affected areas in Tohoku. The gifts collected were donated to OGA for Aid. Read more about Table for Tohoku on our previous blog post.

Middle School students have also been involved by providing virtual English classrooms to 5th and 6th grade students in Ofunato. They, too, have recently stepped outside of their normal activities by making a trip to teach in person. You can read more about their trip in our post ASIJ’S Tohoku Virtual English classes travel to Ofunato.

In addition to our remote classrooms, The Saturday English Circle Program continues to forge ahead, having added two new families in January. English Circle provides English lessons at ASIJ’s Early Learning Center for children who have relocated to Tokyo as a result of contamination in Fukushima. Kathleen Nickle (MS English Teacher) and Elicia Cousins (HS Writing Lab) have even added a regular course for parents. Demand for a spot in these classes has been high, often taking the English Circle Program to capacity.

The Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (KEEP) continues to assist families who have been affected by the 3/11 disaster four years ago. KEEP participants, most recently, invited 7 mothers and 14 children to ASIJ for a weekend of Winterfest and Tokyo fun. That story can be read in more detail at our Winter Retreat for ASIJ Fukushima Families post.

Even as years pass, ASIJ students, motivated to help in any way possible, fund-raise, teach, travel and work with affected families as the northern areas of Japan move forward with reconstruction. Those most strongly affected certainly remember 3/11/11 as if it were yesterday. Our actions as individuals and as a community will continue to show compassion and support for families still suffering four years later.

ASIJ’s Tohoku Virtual English Classes Travel to Ofunato

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.

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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.

group croppedThroughout 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: