While Shaler Area students get back to hitting the books this week, 20 students spent their summer cramming in some extra learning time.
Gerra Gembarosky, a Japanese teacher at Shaler Area Middle School, took 20 students on a two-week tour of Japan through EF Educational Tours to practice the language and experience the culture.
Gembarosky has taught Japanese for 16 years, and two years ago, she planned a tour of Japan for six students. The program was so successful, she volunteered to organize another trip to Japan and already plans to return in 2011.
"For me, especially with Japanese, there are so many opportunities for them to use this language in their careers, and they may not know this yet," Gembarosky says.
Students traveled to six Japanese cities touring shrines, temples, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, a deer park and an onsen, which is a hot spring bathing facility. They also explored Japanese food and cultural differences.
One student has big plans for her trip:
[Jackie] Keller was inspired to use her experiences as part of her senior project. While in Japan, she took more than 1,000 photographs of the people, food, architecture and cultural differences.
Armed with her photos as visual examples, Keller will create a presentation for younger classes to teach them about Japanese and other Asian cultures.
"I want them to be aware of this area of the world," Keller says. "It's so important right now, and it's not going to stop; it's just going to get more and more important."
Another student enjoyed practicing with native speakers:
"I got to use more of the language and learned how to speak better and communicate better," Merlo says.
Merlo even was able to introduce herself to two Japanese girls she sat next to on the plane and talked with them about their school lives.
"In Japan, you have to think of the responses right away, as opposed to the classroom, where you have a second or two to decide what you want to say," Merlo says. "It's more scripted in school than outside of school."
There are a few pictures accompanying that article as well. Funny how stuff like this turns up once you start looking for it. It wasn't until after I became interested in Korea and Korean that I noticed the Korean churches around here, Korean food in the grocery stores, and the occassional bit of Korean on TV. And, it wasn't until I looked around for potential teaching options in Pittsburgh for my fiance that I saw that Japanese is actually taught in Pittsburgh.
Interestingly, that same class trip turned up in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 10th. It focuses on some of the better students and on some of their experiences with Japanese:
Seventh-graders at Mount Royal take nine weeks each of French, Spanish, Japanese and Latin. In eighth grade, they can choose one language and can take up to five years of instruction. Shaler Area High School also has a Japanese National Honor Society.
"The Japanese department at Shaler Area is enjoying its 20th anniversary of offering this critical-need language," Mrs. Gembarosky said.
Because the Japanese writing system is so different from the English alphabet, it takes a student almost twice as long to achieve a level of proficiency in Japanese as it does in languages such as Spanish, Mrs. Gembarosky said. "Students who take Japanese are the ones who want a challenge, who want to do something unique."
Kaitlyn Price, 16, a senior, spent six weeks this summer as an exchange student at a Japanese high school. Two years ago, she went on the group trip. "When I went the first time, I thought I knew Japanese. But I realized I had no idea what I was doing," said Kaitlyn, noting that as an exchange student she was constantly immersed in the language and culture.
Kaitlyn, of Reserve, had four years of independent Japanese study beginning in second grade through the district's gifted and talented program, and began classroom instruction in seventh grade.
"At the beginning of the trip this summer, I could speak elementary Japanese," Kaitlyn said. "By the end, I could speak like a high school Japanese student. I could understand almost everything they said, and I learned a lot of slang."
Kaitlyn said she and another Shaler Area student, Alexa Little, were at the top of the advanced Japanese class and served as translators for other American exchange students, most of whom had only two years of Japanese.
Very interesting stuff, I had no idea a school district like Shaler---where some of my cousins went and where I would have gone had I not moved when I was five---had such a developed Japanese program. Surprising, too, that given Pittsburgh's German roots, German isn't offered.
Off-topic, but interesting to note that whenever you excerpt something from the Post-Gazette, it automatically adds
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09253/996774-54.stm#ixzz0QqWwglO5
to the bottom.