Tapping Into Students’ Curiosity About the World

Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids visited Milwood Magnet Middle School back in January of 2020 to learn more about the Japanese Culture Club. Below is the article we were going to run in the Spring issue of CIS Connections. While the pandemic disrupted the publication schedule for our newsletter (we’re in the middle of pulling the Fall issue together for you!), we still want to share this piece with you.

While much has changed with the pandemic, one thing that remains the same is that our 12,000+ kids love learning. This article is a good reminder of that.  

JAPANESE CULTURE CLUB

The school day had just ended. In one section of Milwood Magnet Middle School, CIS After School was getting underway. In another part of the school, students were wiping down tables in Mr. Patrick Woodley’s room. The social studies teacher had packed up papers and books and turned over his room to CIS.

Students prepare for their Sensai.

“We’re getting ready for our sensei,” explained Akyra Mabon. In Japanese culture, it’s a sign of respect to do this for your teacher. Sensai,” she clarified, “means ‘teacher’ in Japanese.”

“Konnichiwa, De’Asia,” announced sixth grader De’Asia English. “Konnichiwa is how you greet somebody in Japanese. It’s the afternoon greeting, so, I’m basically saying, “Hi, I’m De’Asia.” I like saying ‘Konnichiwa, De’Asia.’ I like how that sounds.” De’Asia also sees benefits to studying a different culture. “I just love that we’re learning how to speak Japanese in the club,” she said. “It’s great to learn new things. You’ll get further in life in ways you may not know. You could go somewhere or meet someone who is outside of the United States and if they speak a different language, like Japanese, you could speak with them!”

Left to right: WMU Soga Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto and CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best during the early part of the 2019/2020 school year.

Since 2013, WMU’s Soga Japan Center (SJC) has worked closely and in a variety of ways with CIS to enrich students’ understanding of Japanese culture during and after school, and as part of CIS Think Summer. “I’m so lucky to have found CIS,” said Soga Japan Center Outreach Coordinator Michiko Yoshimoto. She first started as a CIS volunteer 10 years ago and it’s this support as both a volunteer and partner “that has helped me with connecting with schools and students.”

During the 2019/2020 school year, CIS Site Coordinator Missy Best connected twenty interested Milwood Magnet students to the Japanese Culture Club. During the club, Michiko has engaged them in a variety of activities, such as calligraphy, language, origami, learning to sing Japanese pop songs, ordering food off of a Japanese menu, and discussing Japanese society and culture.

When Michiko steps into Mr. Woodley’s classroom, she was accompanied by several club members who had greeted her at the school’s entrance. Even after a full day of learning, it was clear these sixth and seventh graders were eager to dig in and learn Japanese culture. “The students really take to Japanese language and culture when given the chance,” said Missy. “…Michiko has a wonderful way of tapping into students’ natural curiosity about the world,” On this particular Wednesday, Missy had arranged for two new students to check out the Japanese Culture Club to see if it might be a good fit for them. They picked up quickly, singing along and asking questions like, “Are names pronounced the same in Japanese as they are in English?” [The answer: not in all cases. For instance, explained Michiko, if you have an “R” in your name, it will be changed to an “S” sound in Japanese.]

What did the student visitors think by the end of the session? “It was kind of weird at first,” said one, “but then I really started having a good time. I liked how we were laughing and that I was already started to learn Japanese.” “It was good, fun, and a new experience,” said the other.

Both agreed they would be coming back.

[If you missed last week’s post, you’ll want to check out Rashon’s interview here with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. As one of the 2019/2020 Japanese Culture Club members, he’s still learning and growing even though he and his classmates are currently not in the school building.]