Dr. Hiroaki Kawamura is leading a group of area K-12 teachers and University of Findlay education majors on what could be called a “fact finding” mission. They are traveling through Japan, “finding” the best practices for incorporating cultural diversity into local classrooms.
Kawamura, chair of the department of language and culture, received nearly $80,000 in grant funding to finance the trip from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Group and the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. The Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation also awarded $3,000 to Findlay City Schools and the Hancock County Educational Service Center to support the project.
Addressing a Need
The group hopes they will return with ideas for lesson plans in more than Japanese culture. They are unanimous in their goal, which is to turn area K-12 students into
global citizens. The teachers are representative of all ages from kindergarten through high school and include special needs. None of them knew each other before attending “pre-travel” training sessions.
“So many of our students are content to stay right here in Hancock County. They don’t want to travel or experience other cultures,” said Kristie Thacker, 3rd grade teacher at Riverdale Local Schools.
Robert Obenour, social studies teacher at Van Buren High School, echoes her concerns.
“Our students graduate, go off to college, then some of them come back to town to work for Marathon or Cooper or another global company. Their employers are telling them to travel and experience other cultures. It’s an important component of the job.”
More Than Lesson Plans
Kawamura stresses that the group will be working on more than developing curriculum. Everything does not have to be written.
“The most important thing is teachers sharing stories,” he added. “The real outcome of this project cannot be tested. We’re looking to implement a change in perception.”
Kawamura said that the project would also support his participation with a workforce development group in Findlay. He has been working with the group to help area employers have a supply of future employees who are prepared to “think globally.”
Steve Gehret, a senior in the College of Education, is living proof of how much perceptions need to change among local students. He says that when he told some high school friends he was going to Japan, some asked why he would want to go there. One even said it would be the “last place he’d want to travel.”
Gehret will use knowledge gained through this project to create a presentation for UF’s Symposium for Scholarship and Creativity in the spring and also plans to speak to local community service organizations about his trip. Joining him in Japan are education majors Brittany Eaches and India Wirt.
The group will spend a month touring Japan and return in July to begin incorporating what they have learned into a “diversity education plan. “
The importance of this mission can be summed up in the words of Jon Hayfield, social studies teacher at Riverdale.
“Our students must learn to understand why certain world events happen. You can’t have empathy for others unless you understand them.”