2019/2020 J-LEAP REPORT

BY Tsubasa Sato

Eastview High School
Apple Valley, MN

Hello, I am writing this from a cozy coffee shop in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Summer is over, fall has come. We had our first light snow in early October.  Minnesota is famous for its cold winters and snowy springs. I lived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia so I’m used to the cold weather, but we will see how it goes here in American’s North Star state.  Do you know Minnesota? It is located just south of Canada. Although the state is far from the ocean, it still has lots of water. Minnesota’s nickname is “land of 10,000 lakes”. Not only does it have a lot of lakes, but it also borders Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world (by surface area).  People in Minnesota are known for being “Minnesota nice,” because people are friendly and nice to all who visit. If you haven’t heard of Minnesota, that is ok, but I am sure you have heard of some of Minnesota’s products. Have you used a Post-it? They were invented by 3M, here in Minnesota. The discount store, Target, started here in Minnesota by the Dayton family and is now nation-wide.  Because of its cold weather, Minnesota is home to the world’s first indoor mall and now has the largest mall in the US, the Mall of America. Since they do not tax clothing, people come from around the world to shop there. Minnesota has a good balance of rural and city life. The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are famous for their theatre, art and music nightlife. Both Bob Dylan and Prince come from Minnesota and their influence is widespread.

I’m Tsubasa Sato, a J-LEAP year 9 assistant teacher at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, MN.  I work with my lead teacher (LT), Laura Moy, who has been teaching Japanese for 19 years.  She has taught in Los Angeles, Hawaii, Osaka, but mostly in her home state of Minnesota.  Apple Valley is a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul. It has a population of just over 50,000 people.  Eastview High School is one of the schools in Independent School District (ISD) 196. ISD 196 is one of MN’s largest school districts, with over 30,000 students enrolled in K-12 education.  The majority of students are white, about one-third of the students are of color. It turns out working at ISD 196 is a good place to work as it was just listed No. 12 out of 51 on Forbes 2019 list of “America’s Best In-State Employers” in Minnesota and the only school district to make the list.  I am so happy to be able to live and work here with amazing teachers in such a great environment. 

Within this district, Eastview High School is ranked as the 2019 Top Comprehensive School in Minnesota in the US News and World Report.  It is a public high school with around 2,200 students. About one-third of students are free or reduced lunch students, which means they are under or near the poverty line.  One reason Eastview does so well is because of the administration. The principals and administration support teachers. They all work together to support students. There are also many things in place to support students who struggle.  First of all, the special education department works closely with its students with learning challenges and helps them find ways to succeed and overcome those challenges. In addition, it also helps these students learn to advocate for themselves when they need to.  Also, one to two times per quarter, the whole school has an event called Target Day, where the normal class schedule is shortened to allow for intervention time in the morning with students and teachers. It provides a way to get personalized help for those who really need it.

There are some things that have surprised me about schools in the US.  First of all, grading and learning in the US, at least in this school district, is moving online.  Eastview uses an online learning management system, Schoology. With that, parents and students can check their grades and learning in real time.  They also can upload videos, writing, etc. and make them visible to either the teacher or the entire class. I was also surprised by the diversity of interest in my Japanese students at Eastview.  Before I came to the US to teach, I assumed only students who were crazy about Anime would take Japanese. Instead, I found that the students had a wide variety of reasons for studying Japanese. Some were interested in Japanese history, culture, or people and others hope to travel to Japan someday.

Finally, what do I do at Eastview?  The Japanese program has levels 1, 2, 3, and 4/AP.  Because of lack of school funding, our level 3 and 4/AP classes are combined.  There are 38 students in this combined class and we need to teach them all. Although it is challenging, we are figuring it out.  We refer to ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) world readiness standards and focus on teaching the modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive and presentational).   Thanks to my LT, I am also able to attend many conferences and learn more about language education. It’s amazing! 

I feel very fortunate that I was selected to be part of the J-Language Education Assistant Program.  They provide training, ongoing support and many opportunities to grow as a world language educator.  I hope to help the Eastview students improve their Japanese, grow the program, support the teacher, help the AP students pass their AP test in May and most importantly help students spread their wings.