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Japanese language program takes off at Timilty Middle School

Posted by Emily Files  December 17, 2012 05:14 PM

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This September, Timilty Middle School became the first middle school in the Boston Public School system to offer school-wide Japanese language classes.

The program, funded by a $30,000 grant provided by the Japan Foundation, is allowing more than 280 students to take Japanese language classes as an elective, if it is offered by their homeroom.

Timilty previously offered Japanese only to sixth-grade students in Advanced Working Classes, but now offers the class to students in any grade, depending on their homeroom assignment.

Timilty, in Roxbury, is one of three schools in the Boston Public school system to offer the language. The other two are high schools: Boston Latin Academy and Snowden International.

The two Japanese teachers at Timilty Middle School, Timothy Nagaoka and Shannon Davi, say they hope the program will give students a leg up on their peers, as Japanese is a unique language that looks impressive on a college application or resume. More importantly, they believe the class will help to expand students’ cultural and world views, especially for those who are not exposed to the Asian culture.

Nagaoka has been teaching Japanese at Timilty for 10 years as a part of the advanced classes and pushed for teaching the subject school-wide.

“I thought that Timilty would be the perfect place. It’s located in the center of Boston, and it’s a city-wide school, which means we get students from all across the city,” said Nagaoka. “It’s the perfect school to have a school-wide Japanese program.”

Davi was hired as the new Japanese teacher. She studied Japanese throughout her undergraduate career, lived in Japan for three years, and received her master’s degree in teaching, with a concentration in Japanese, from Tufts University. She says she hopes that over time, the new class will change students’ perspectives.

“I think that a lot of the students have a limited scope as to culture and diversity, and I think that by opening their eyes to a new culture, they can see how diverse the world can really be,” said Davi.

Halfway through the school year, the program is thriving, despite some reluctance from students in the beginning. “It’s still in its infant stage, but it’s heading in the right direction,” said Nagaoka.

Japanese is a tough language to learn, especially for middle school students.

“Japanese is definitely difficult compared to romance languages, but I think that if (students) keep an open mind and are able to bend their concept as to what a language is, they should have no problem -- if they study hard, of course,” Davi said.

Despite the difficulties, Davi and Nagaoka believe that the benefits of learning Japanese are palpable.

“There are strong connections between Boston and Japan, and I think that it is beneficial to students to take part in this connection,” said Nagaoka. “All languages will benefit students.”

Davi agreed that learning Japanese will give students an edge in the long run.

“Most schools offer common languages, but if a student has on their resume that they took Japanese, it could benefit them in both college and while looking for jobs,” said Davi.

Nagaoka hopes the program will be expanded if Timilty receives funding to hire more Japanese language teachers. He also hopes that the middle school can begin collaborating with the two high schools that offer the language, to gain more traction and for mutual support.

On a broader scale, he believes Boston schools should invest more in language learning.

“I know that there’s probably budget issues, but I hope that in the future, Boston Public Schools can expand their requirements,” said Nagaoka. “I think that the students will benefit a lot from it.”

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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