Palmer High School
Konnichiwa from the city of Palmer, Alaska. I am writing this newsletter in the morning before the sun rises. It is December 20th today, the day before Winter solstice. The sun won’t come up until after 10 o’clock in the morning, and it tells us “Oyasumi nasai.” at 3:33 pm. This is the darkest day of the year, however, I am feeling warmer while enjoying the dreamy and luminous Christmas lights in downtown, Palmer.
The Last Frontier
Have you ever heard of the state of Alaska? I bet you that everyone says, “Yes.” Alaska is located at the northwestern of the American continent. Even we say “lower 48” for the other states of America except for Hawaii. Alaska is the biggest state in the United States, which is about four times bigger than Japan. Its population density is the lowest of the country with the beautiful pristine nature. Speaking of Alaska, what comes to your mind is aurora – northern lights, isn’t it? For me, it is yes. Alaska is popular for tourists all over the world for watching northern lights, especially for Japanese. We have Alaska Railroad Train from Anchorage, where the biggest airport is located, to Fairbanks, which is famous for northern lights. On the way to Fairbanks, you can see Denali, the highest mountain in North America. The name of Denali comes from mainly two meanings that are “the tall one” and “big mountain” in Native languages. For example, it is called “Deenaalee” in Koyukon language, and “Dghelay Ka’a” in Denai’ina language. Yes, Alaska has a great diversity of native and world languages.
Nihongo in Palmer
I am Akiho Negishi, a J-LEAP year 9 assistant teacher. I am co-teaching Japanese with my lead teacher, Carla Swick, at Palmer High School. She has been teaching Japanese for 23 years (almost my age!) here, in her home state. She also has taught English in Hokkaido, Japan. In addition to Japanese, she teaches Educators Rising this year, a class for the students who are interested in education-related careers. It is my fortune that I also can be a part of an education class in the U.S. While sharing my perspective as a Japanese educator, I can learn about the education in America, which is very new to me. Our students and I are truly lucky being able to have such an experienced and energetic teacher here!
“Go Moose!” – Palmer High School (PHS) is located in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in the city of Palmer, about an hour drive away from Anchorage. We have about 800 students in total. PHS is one of two schools offering International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program in the state. We are glad that we are able to start a class of IB Japanese this year.
Our Japanese program has five classes this year including levels 1, 2, and IB. We have 50 students in two classes of Japanese 1, 27 for two classes of Japanese 2 as well, and 23 for IB Japanese. The most challenging level for us is IB, because it is a combined class of level 3 and 4 students. Yet, it is very inspiring to see how our students are open-minded and cooperate each other. The students of level 3 are motivated by learning with the upper level students. The level 4 students also learn a lot by supporting the level 3. We enjoy co-teaching very much having authentic conversations in Japanese during and outside of the class. It amazes me sometimes that students pick and use random Japanese words that we are not intended to teach. By using ACTFL guideline as a reference, we are focusing on pointing out which modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational) we are using for. Therefore, students and we can go towards goals of leaning effectively.
Our students’ purpose to study Japanese varies colorfully. Some of them are interested in traveling to Japan, and others are curious about Japanese food. One is willing to study linguistics, and the other is into the pop culture. Throughout Japanese classroom, we are making our own connections. I always love the times we share our “Aha” together. By the way, you can also hear students talking about really Alaskan hobbies here, such as hiking, berry picking, riding snowmobile, fishing, etc.
Here is one of things that have surprised me; students have only five minutes break between classes. To be honest, I was overwhelmed by this hectic schedule for the first several months. Although, sharing “iikoto” – good things, at the beginning of a class, we are able to be ready for learning and feel positive. I love this classroom tradition very much. “Sore wa ii koto!”
Outside of the classroom, we mainly support our sister city program between Palmer and Saroma, Hokkaido, in Japan. We host Japanese conversation classes for the adult delegation, the exchange student delegation, and the elementary school students. When we were doing Skype sessions with the elementary schools both in Palmer and Saroma, I was glad that the students were able to have a connection as a global citizens living in the both cities. I hope those students will get involved with Japanese and take a Japanese class at PHS in the future.
When I am not teaching, I enjoy spending time with my host family and the LT’s family. We go hiking, camping, and traveling a lot. We’ve been to Juneau, Talkeetna, Sewerd, Fairbanks, and more. In my town, I love the mountains we can view for 360-degrees, and their beautiful changing colors and details every moment. One of my favorite memories so far is hiking on Matanuska Glacier last summer. We were able to enjoy hearing the ancient air bubbles pop out from the thick ices! Also, about a week ago, I just started to go cross-county skiing with my host mother, also known as my private ski coach. It is a whole-body exercise that made my body sore shortly! I will try to practice as a routine since it is fun to glide on white powder snow. Also, the scenery from the mountain while skiing is incredibly pretty. The more I explore Alaska, the more I love it here. Thanks to my Alaskan families, I have tried a lot of things that I had never done before.
It is my honor that I am chosen to be a part of J-LEAP. I really appreciate all of the support from The Japan Foundation, Laurasian Institution, Palmer High School, Swick-sensei, my family and friends both in the U.S. and Japan. It is unbelievable that it has been a half a school year already. I will keep having fun to share the joy of learning Japanese with our students and my co-teacher. Even though I am here to teach Japanese, I want to contribute to support our students’ development of their personal skills such as being a thinker, communicator, and risk-taker as IB profile describes. I am happy if I can deliver a little twinkle star for each student, so that they can bring it up in their unique way and hold it to brighten their own world and our globe. We learn and grow together, Palmer Mooses!