USJETAA launched the fourth year of the Microgrant Initiative for American JETs last October. USJETAA partnered with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to award 22 microgrants (grants of small amounts of funding) to current American JET Program(me) teachers to support projects in Japanese schools and local communities. This year was the largest number of applications with a total of 39 project proposals. Awarded projects were larger in scope, engaged the community in direct experiences or exchanges, and took place in areas of Japan that had not seen previous projects.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic affected grantees as they worked to finish their projects. To help grantees complete their projects, the grant period was extended into the summer of 2021 so not all projects are complete at this stage. Many grantees affected by COVID-19 made modifications and found virtual ways to finish their projects. This year's projects incorporated cultural exchange, community resources, penpal exchanges and English language study in virtual and in person spaces.
Here are some of the projects that have been completed so far:
Virtual and Letter Exchanges
Virtual and letter exchanges were conducted between Japanese and American schools. The students were happily engaged in the projects, as they were able to communicate in English with each other and share interesting things about their culture. These projects work to improve students’ literacy and motivation, demonstrate the relevance of English language, and impart the importance of students becoming informed global citizens.
ALT Annabel Baker-Sullivan’s project, To and from Hokkaido and New York, paired an American school where many students’ first language is Spanish and a Japanese Junior high school. The students exchanged letters and bonded over using English as a second language. Annabel shared that Japanese students thought “American students were very friendly and warm, and even wrote that they hope to visit the Bronx one day.”
Another penpal project, Space Coast Pen Pal, was conducted between junior high schools in Kimotsuki, Kagoshima and Melbourne, Florida, both coastal areas defined by the space industry. CIR, Lydia Zumbrun, helped students write letters and gave presentations on American culture. Despite difficulties due to covid-19, the project was able to continue by switching from written to digital letters.
Mystery Hangouts to Improve our communication, a project by ALT Alex Crockett in Kyoto, matched his students with random classrooms around the world for a cultural exchange. At the “Mystery Place” events, students took turns asking Yes/No questions to guess where the other classroom was located. Over four weeks, students talked in English with classrooms in India, Vietnam, Turkey, and Israel. After guessing each others countries, the students spent time talking about their cultures and interacted with each other.
ALT Rachel Gregory' s project Portable Magic: Founding an English Library, and ALT Yoshika Watson’s project, Multicultural and Multilingual Manga Library Collection, both created resources for their schools. They used surveys to ask students about their reading preferences to better purchase books that would suit them. In Iwate prefecture, Rachel and the school librarian, Mrs. Segawa, worked together to set up spaces for the incoming collection and familiarize the student body with the new resources through library tours. They started a schoolwide English Reading Raffle where three students were chosen as winners to receive a book of their choice. In Aomori prefecture, Yoshika wrote short summaries inside the books and comics in Japanese and made students write their own fill in the blank comics. These comics were put into a binder and added to the library collection for students to read. Yoshika reflects on the importance of native English materials, “students were momentarily confused about whether they should read from right to left or left to right. Even though this is a very small thing, I think it was a good experience for students to discover differences between English and Japanese books.” Read more about her use of comics in the classroom in her blog, good morning aomori.
ALT AnneMarie Echols’s project, An International Exchange in Kobe, took high school students from the English Speaking Society (ESS) at her school to visit the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The director of the JICA Kansai branch talked with them about the importance of the activities that JICA performs. They also heard from a speaker who spent time working in Ghana through JICA’s volunteer programs. She described what it was like to live in a foreign country that was so vastly different from her own, and inspired many students to go abroad. Students ate international foods at the cafeteria and explored an exhibition on different types of aid.
Marissa Hanabusa, an ALT in Kyoto, created the project, A Taste of America: Exploring English language and US culture through food, to improve high school student’s cultural understanding and English skills through learning about American food culture. Through eight class periods, students compared Japanese and American food customs, analyzed snacks, wrote food recommendations, translated recipes, and cooked popular Americanized dishes. Marissa worked with the life sciences teacher to utilize youtube videos, activities, and the movie “Super-Size Me” to learn more. During the final class students cooked American dishes.
The Microgrant Initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy Tokyo and facilitated by USJETAA.