Land of the Rising Sun sets in Summit County |

Land of the Rising Sun sets in Summit County

ROBERT ALLENsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/ Laura RyerThe Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo was just one of the sights SHS teacher Laura Ryer took in while in Japan.

Summit High School history teacher Laura Ryer is using her experiences from the Land of the Rising Sun to broaden her students horizons. She traveled to Japan and visited schools for a few weeks last semester, even signing a number of autographs. All the kids were so interested in me, Ryer said. Kids said: No, youre not just a teacher, youre an American teacher.She said the students asked many questions about American pop culture and were excited to practice their English skills. Ryers travels included schools in Miyazaki City (population 365,000), which is in southern Japan on the island of Kyushu. In Japan, only grades one through nine are compulsory. The students then take a test to get into high school. Ryer said the high school she visited had a tuition of $1,200 to $2,500 per year. The elementary and junior high-school students are required to take a moral-education class, which includes reading parables, learning how to relate to one another and how to be a respectable member of Japanese society.Thats a very interesting thing that might be an interesting fit for American schools, she said. During passing periods, the students remain in their in the rooms as teachers circulate among the classes. Ryer said the students socialize and act like normal kids until the teacher arrives and the bell rings. Every student stands up and says thank you, and everybody bows to the teacher, for the knowledge theyll receive that day, she said. Lunch is served in the classroom; students pick up the food from staff and bring it to their classmates. After eating, students must clean their plates and brush their teeth. Ryer said that once students enter high school, the lunch routine becomes similar to that of American high schools. To Ryers surprise, technology wasnt as essential to Japanese teaching as many Westerners may expect. I was bowled over to see that the teachers were writing on chalkboards, for the most part, she said, adding that the students all seemed rather computer-savvy. The national exam that students must take to determine placement in senior high school and universities causes much stress for the students. More than 56 percent of the students attend cram schools to prepare for it.Ryer said the Japanese system of education, with its emphasis on facts and memorization, is noticeably different from the United States despite many similarities. Theyre good at reasoning and memorization, but opinions and backing of opinions or being able to formulate or to argue a certain point that was the one thing sort of lacking, Ryer said. She said theres been talk of changing the system, but it will take time.In Tokyo, Ryer met a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing where an American atom bomb killed up to 140,000 people in 1945. The man had been 16 years old and was in math class when the bomb dropped. He told us his story. That was really moving and compelling, she said. Ryer plans to include what she gathered from this and other interviews for a Peacemakers unit for her classes. She presented her experiences to SHS staff in January and will bring a slide show to the Summit School Board meeting March 10.She was selected to participate in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund teacher program from a national pool of more than 1,700 applicants. She was one of about 320 educators participating in two sessions last year. The Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund is based in Tokyo. It is offered through the Japanese government and began in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. governments Fulbright program. That program has given more than 6,000 Japanese citizens opportunity to pursue graduate education and research in the United States.The program is also coordinated through the Institute of International Education. Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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