By Lucia Holloway
Contrasts in Japanese and U.S. Schools were an eye-opener for Water Valley First Grade Teacher Becky York, one of two Mississippians receiving a Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program Scholarship last fall.
Three weeks of culture, food, and sites in Japan stimulated the 200 U.S. teachers. “I learned that Japanese are a quiet, gentle people and that even today, their lives are affected greatly by the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” said Becky, who has been teaching elementary students for 10 years.
She and their three children followed her husband, Travis, throughout his 20 year Navy career. The Water Valley native lived up and down the east coast, from Florida to Washington, D.C., and on the island of Guam. Being a military family and actively involved in church and mission activities, interest in other cultures was natural for Becky.
While stationed in Millington, Tennessee, she received her B.S. degree from the University of Memphis and taught three years in Shelby County. The Yorks moved to Water Valley eight years ago. Travis is a radiology technologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital—North Mississippi in Oxford. Becky received her National Board Certification for Teachers while teaching first grade at Davidson Elementary School. In May, she earned her Masters in Education from Ole Miss.
In Japan, the desire to learn is evidenced by the students’ willingness to attend Saturday classes, York reported. They attend school ten months annually and two Saturdays monthly. After the eighth grade, a student’s future education is set for college or the work force.
When teachers lecture, students are motivated to listen attentively. Becky attributes their courtesy to their moral education, which includes respect for others, generosity in sharing, appreciation of kindnesses, and is based on their religious belief which is principally Buddhism or Shintoism. “We were advised not to admire anything the Japanese had, such as jewelry, because they would insist on giving it to us,” she said.
While there, she gave away over 100 Mississippi lapel pins. “Teachers and people on the streets were overwhelmed by the gift and would ask ‘For me?’” she said, “Whereas, most people here would not think too much of such a small token.”
Quietness of school corridors is punctuated by the fact that students deposit their shoes in cubbies at the entrances and wear shoes similar to our house slippers throughout the day.
To promote leadership, sixth graders intermingle with younger classes on the playground each day. Even first graders teach kindergarten children as they play together.
When classes end at 3 p.m., students help clean the entire building. “We heard that parents protested when clean-up duties were omitted at one private school so cleanup detail was reinstated,” she said.
“Because children are taught not to waste food, we were told to eat every bite on our plates as a good example,” she explained. “So I followed the old missionary motto, Lord, I’ll get it down if you keep it down.” In contrast to U.S. cafeterias, food trays are deposited in each Japanese classroom. Assigned students distribute trays to each student’s desk where they eat lunch. Then, each child stacks their empty trays on carts that are returned to the kitchen.”
“Last year, when I returned to my first grade class, we tried Japanese recipes, ate with chop sticks, designed kimonos from t-shirts, and read many Japanese stories. Also, they learned basic Japanese phrases, to count to ten, and how to write their names in Japanese using the internet.
“One mother told me that her son wants to go to Japan when he grows up. Providing the opportunity for children to learn about other cultures was one of my goals,” she said. “When I was in the first grade, the farm I lived on in Water Valley was all I knew. I want my students to know that there is a big world out there. I want them to be a part of it so they can learn to dream big.”
By using two $400 grants received from Chevron Community Pride Grants, she has been able to integrate what she learned in Japan with her curriculum here. “Seeing the beautiful gardens in Japan, I was encouraged to develop four butterfly gardens for our school. Christine Fielder, Yalobusha 4-H PA, guided me through the grant process,” she said. First graders planted the seed, transferred them to the garden, and have seen many butterflies among the beautiful flowers. One little boy told her, “I’ve never planted a flower before.” As part of the “hands on, minds on” science, students learned parts of the plants and have watched caterpillars change into butterflies. “We encourage our parents, and others in the community, to come see our gardens,” she said.
Now, Becky is enrolled in a Spanish Class at Northwest Community College. For five summers, she has gone to Matamoras, Mexico with a mission team from First Baptist Church in Senatobia. In addition, she teaches an adult Sunday School Class at Woodland Hills Baptist Church. The class is affectionately called “The Mixed Nuts” because it represents a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and ideas.
Raising orchids is a hobby she enjoys at home. “I had never had an orchid until a friend gave me one,” she said. “Because it was easier to grow than I expected, I bought another one.” Now she has quite a collection—38 orchid plants.
In spite of Becky’s packed schedule at school, church, and home, she finds time to share her enthusiasm for educational travel with local organizations.