Mr. Todd Halstead
ELL Specialist, Ivy Hall Elementary School, Kildeer Countryside School District 96
I was more than honored to be chosen as one of the JEEP 2015 delegates from the Chicago area. Everything about the trip and experience was wonderful. The IEJ coordinators did an excellent job organizing everything and made it a special experience for the delegation throughout the whole trip. The Japanese school visits were very enlightening for the delegates and presented many new ideas for us to bring to our schools. The cultural experiences were spectacular and a once in a lifetime opportunity for all. Innumerable stand out moments occurred during my time in Japan and I was fortunate enough to be able to extend my trip and experience more of Japan after the JEEP program ended.
The first school visit was in Tokyo and presented the most formal school setting that we saw. The students were all required to wear uniforms and there was more strict scheduling throughout the school. Here I really noticed how well the students worked together within the classroom: students clearly supported each other throughout the learning process. I also loved that they swam every day and also learned to ride unicycles. This is where the delegates presented their lessons to many of the classes. This was a fun opportunity for educational and cultural exchanges between the delegates and the students.
The second school we visited was in Nara which was The Elementary School Attached to the Women’s College. This school was different from the first school in that it was less formal. The students were allowed to wear their own outfits and the schedule was a bit less rigid. Here the students had a 1 hour English class every day. This was a chance for the delegates to engage with the students in a meaningful way. It was quite fun to work with the students on the English they were learning and have them put it to use in a real life setting.
The final school we visited was in Hiroshima. Although we visited for the Commemoration Ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, which was on a Sunday, we were able to get a good sense of how the school was run. The Commemoration was very moving and a nice way to celebrate the work that the school has done to support the local community. This school was very different from the others because it had a large population of Japanese students who had grown up in China. These students were not as fluent in Japanese and many were from low income families. The principal explained the many challenges that the school faced due to the difficulties within the community. By implementing programs to reduce prejudice within the school and empower the students the school had begun to improve the school environment and quality of the education there. Although it was still a work in progress there was clear evidence that the programs were working.
The cultural experiences during the trip were amazing. Some of the standout moments for me were the visit to the Tokyo kimono shop and Todaiji Temple. When we arrived at the Kimono shop in Tokyo we were greeted by the entire staff who clapped upon our arrival. We then headed upstairs and were given an explanation of the various fabrics and techniques involved in the making of a kimono. We also learned of the historical significance of the kimonos. Then we were all led into a tatami mat room and dressed in traditional kimonos. It was so much fun and very interesting.
Another moment that I really enjoyed was our visit to Todaiji Temple. This was an amazing old temple which is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Here we had a private audience with the head abbot of the temple who explained many of the intricacies of Buddhism and the difficulties it faces in the modern world. We then headed into the main temple building to get an up close view of the 50ft high bronze Buddha sculpture. Beyond these exciting activities I was extremely excited to experience the cuisine. I loved trying many new foods that I had never tried before and also to try some of my favorite Japanese foods in an authentic setting. The whole visit was a really special experience that I will never forget.
Overall I have nothing but gratitude to the JCCC and IEJ for providing an amazing learning experience which will enrich both the students and the teachers I work with. I learned so much about Japanese culture and have a much deeper understanding of where my students come from. The trip allowed me to make connections with many teachers around the country and the world with whom I can share and exchange ideas. Again I thank the JCCC for providing this opportunity for myself and all the teachers who have been and will be selected for the JEEP program.