• December 11, 2019

Japanese clubs spring up at Odessa schools - Odessa American: ECISD

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Japanese clubs spring up at Odessa schools

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  • Exploring Culture

    9-year-old Ara Madrid shows 9-year-old Kathia Miranda the progress she has made on her cherry blossom artwork. Cherry blossoms are a very famous plant in Japanese culture, with entire parks dedicated to the cherry trees.

Posted: Sunday, December 1, 2019 4:00 am

Odessa has been experiencing a touch of Asia the past couple of years with Japanese Clubs at Hays STEAM Academy and University of Texas Permian Basin STEM Academy.

Haley Marinovich, a substitute teacher at Hays, has been substituting at the campus for four years and felt starting a Japanese club this semester would be a good way to give back to the community.

“I learned Japanese after I graduated high school,” Marinovich said. “I studied abroad and went to the language school, so it’s something I’ve been working at getting more proficient at. I think that Odessa’s a place where … it would be great to have more ways for students to hear about other cultures and the world around them so I thought this would be a great way to give back to the community, in that way, and help with that.”

Her club, which ended earlier this month, had roughly 10 students. The age range was mostly third through fifth grade, although some younger students joined.

“I teach them what’s called hiragana, which is one of the three writing systems that Japan uses. It’s the most basic one that people learn first, so they’ve been learning how to read and write and then I’ve been teaching them vocabulary (and) basic grammar,” Marinovich said.

Along with learning the language and culture, they also did projects. On a recent Tuesday, she was teaching them about Hanami, which is when the Japanese welcome spring and the blooming of the cherry blossoms.

Marinovich said she may offer the club again next year, but she also has a company, with a partner, called Chaotic Harmony, an import and event company.

Marinovich, who was born and raised in Odessa, added that she’s always liked Japanese culture.

“I really enjoyed listening to the music when I was younger, so that just kind of grew from there and that made me want to learn more about the culture and the language, as well,” she said.

Ara Madrid, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Hays, said she likes the club because it’s fun and she wants to learn a new language.

Maite Sanchez, also a 9-year-old third-grader, said she wanted to join the club because Marinovich was going to be offering it.

“And my best friends were doing it and I want to learn a different language because I know how to write in English and Spanish and now I want to learn how to write in Japanese,” Sanchez said.

She added that she likes the projects they do during the club time.

Zoe Gonzalez, a 7-year-old third grader, said she wanted to learn another language and decided on Japanese. What she likes best is Marinovich because “she’s so nice and she lets us do activities.”

Marinovich noted that the students are at the right age to learn a new language “because they remember things so quickly.”

“It’s really impressive how fast some of them are able to pick things up,” she said.

Pauline Williamson, a third grade science and social studies teacher at STEM Academy, said this is her third year having her club. She usually has 20 to 30 students and has expanded from half an hour to an hour on Fridays.

Many of the students in the club are children Williamson has taught, but there are some younger students and some who are older.

“I have a really strong interest in Japan and Japanese culture and I thought that it was really important for the kids to be exposed to a culture that was very different than our own and plus there’s a very high interest,” Williamson said.

“We have some kids that actually have Japanese ancestry and so there’s been a high interest. Obviously, a lot of the kids are interested because of anime, or manga, or like Pokemon and things like that. But I try to introduce them to the basics of Japanese culture, whether it be the language, or the food, or the history; the geography; all different aspects of Japanese culture, not just the media that they experience,” she added.

Sometimes they watch videos. On a recent Friday, they were watching a video about emojis, but they also view topics like what it’s like to go to school in Japan and examine the similarities and differences.

Williamson also has introduced the students to Japanese foods, along with the language and culture.

“We’ve got books. We’ve looked at calligraphy and a whole host of things,” she said.

The club had a booth at the city’s fall festival in October and raised money because, long-term, they might want to take some of the students to Japan.

Williamson said she got interested in Japan by having a Japanese classmate when she was in fourth grade in Los Alamos, N.M.

“We had a project where we studied different cultures around the world and I was paired up with a girl who was from Japan, so I learned a lot about different things about her culture back then and it made an impact on me. That’s part of one of the reasons I’m doing this is because I want my kids to have that same experience of opening them up to the possibilities in the world around them,” she said.

Natalea Alexander, an 11-year-old sixth grader, Yangyi Jin-Williams, a 9-year-old fourth grader, and Maximilian Lange, a 10-year-old fourth grader, are all members who thought it would be cool to learn more about Japanese culture.

“I wanted to come because of my friends and she (Williamson) is my favorite teacher; also because I want to learn more about a different language and a different country,” Jin-Williams said.

She said she likes everything about the club.

“My mom is Chinese, so I thought Japan is close to China so I can learn about how they’re different,” Jin-Williams said.

Alexander said she likes the learning process because it’s not like normal school.

“… It’s just really fun instead of having to sit in a boring class,” she said.

Maureen Lo, a parent with two sons at STEM Academy, said she thinks the school having the club is great because it exposes the students to a different culture and can change their view of the world.

“I was born in Taiwan. In Asia, you can see different cultures wherever you are,” Lo said.

Odessa, TX

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