For those of you who don't know, I only made the alternate list for JET, so I am pursuing my Master of Arts in secondary education this summer. My focus will be English, but I intend to gain certification in Japanese as well, after I compete my initial graduate program. However, with the Japanese program under the axe at my alma mater, my first task is to preserve that program, to ensure the school district as a whole doesn't lose this unique and valuable option for foreign language instruction.
If you think this is a worthy cause, I invite you to copy this letter or write your own to Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette and/or School Board President Dr. Donna Dearman at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the letter...
Dear Dr. Monica Goyette:
It has come to my attention that the Mat-Su Borough School District has not budgeted for a half- or full-time Japanese language teaching position at Colony High School for the 2017-2018 school year. This concerns me for several reasons.
As a graduate of Colony High School and its Japanese program, I know the value of Mr. Shunji Ninoyu’s teaching of the language and culture of Japan. Back then, students were required to take 2 years of foreign language in order to graduate. I chose Japanese, as a freshman in 2006, for two reasons: I had picked up a few Japanese words and phrases from self-study, and the language was an interesting alternative to the stock French and Spanish offered at most high schools. (According to a 2011 study by the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., Spanish and French are the most-offered languages in U.S. secondary schools that offer foreign language instruction at 93 and 46 percent, respectively. Japanese, by contrast, is only taught at 3 percent of those schools that offer foreign language.)
I continued to take Japanese as a sophomore, learning as much of the culture as Ninoyu-sensei could offer through traditional songs and holiday celebrations. I was inducted into the Japanese National Honor Society at the end of that year, along with about 15 other students.
As a junior I participated in a supervised “independent study” of Japanese 3 with three or four other students, during Ninoyu-sensei’s lunch hour – he was that dedicated to our continued education. That year we all participated in the state Japanese declamation contest at UAA, something I would not have done without the Japanese program and Ninoyu-sensei’s encouragement. Since no fourth-year Japanese course was offered my senior year, I chose to be an aide for Ninoyu-sensei’s Japanese 1 class.
Something I didn’t expect to learn in Japanese class was tolerance and understanding of a foreign culture – not of Japan, but of a particular group of young people my friends and I once cruelly referred to as “manfres” (pronounced MAN-fers), short for “manga freaks.” Manga is a kind of Japanese comic often read by or associated (in America) with a certain brand of misfits – students with brightly colored hair or “weird” clothes and accessories such as furry tails or plush keychains of cartoon characters. I avoided many of these students until I took Japanese. In that class, I befriended many students I would not have come into contact with otherwise. I stopped using the word my friends and I had invented, and learned to be kinder to people, even if I thought their hobbies were a bit obsessive. Japanese class, I think, also became a safe place for those students to talk about their interests without fear of ridicule, something that is still too uncommon in public schools.
Beyond Colony, I had similar, and even greater, experiences. In the fall of 2010, I entered Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, where I ultimately graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Japanese Studies (two separate majors). I had only intended to minor in Japanese at Gustavus, but the thirst for knowledge that Ninoyu-sensei had instilled in me was not easily quenched. I found myself signing up for classes on Japan in every field – religion, philosophy, literature and history – and as a senior spent a semester at Kansai Gaidai, an international university in Osaka, Japan. It was possibly the most exciting and educational semester of my college career.
Now, as a substitute teacher and aspiring full-time educator, I realize that it is more important than ever to support the program that I hope to have the chance to lead or support as a teacher in the Mat-Su Borough. Not only because I would love to teach Japanese or see it taught at my alma mater, but because the Valley now has two Japanese sister cities to foster relationships with beyond the schools. With the ink practically still wet on the signed agreement between Wasilla and Uchiko, and Palmer celebrating its 37th year in relationship with Saroma, the Valley’s connections to Japan are growing. It would be a shame to halt that growth now. Palmer High only recently reinstated its Japanese program after a seven-year hiatus, and Wasilla is only supporting one Japanese 1 class and one Japanese 2 class this year. Losing Japanese at Colony would only make the programs at other schools more tenuous, a travesty that could affect the quality of our relationship with Uchiko and Saroma as a community. These relationships cannot thrive without student interest, and it is difficult to generate and sustain student interest without a program in place where higher level students can recruit newcomers by vouching for it with their own personal experiences.
I understand that my mere enjoyment of Japanese at Colony and beyond may not be enough to convince the powers that be of the value of the program, which is why I am collecting the signatures of people who echo my statements in this letter. I have also encouraged my former classmates to send you copies of this letter or their own messages in support of the Japanese program at CHS.
I hope that this district, with its strong emphasis on student choice, will see how important this program is and consider retaining a Japanese teaching position at Colony High School.