Picayune gifted students learn about Japan

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 4, 2014

FIRE: Picayune School District gifted students enjoy the Hibachi grill at Osaka in Slidell, La. The trip to Osaka was part of the a unit on Japanese culture and history.  Photo submitted

FIRE: Picayune School District gifted students enjoy the Hibachi grill at Osaka in Slidell, La. The trip to Osaka was part of the a unit on Japanese culture and history.
Photo submitted

For about 15 weeks towards the end of the school year, Picayune School District’s 96 gifted students got an in-depth lesson on Japanese culture, history and the country’s relationship with the United States.

The in-depth lesson, which included a trip to Osaka Japanese restaurant in Slidell, La., was funded through a $4,100 grant from the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, said Nicholson Elementary gifted teacher Maureen Pollitz.

The grant was equally distributed to gifted programs at all elementary schools within the district, which helped the teachers buy additional materials to expand the lesson on global relations between Japan and the United States.

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Pollitz said the gifted program conducts an instructional unit about Japan every year because of the similarities between the two countries, but there are also differences that set Japan apart. This year the teachers wanted to strengthen and expand on what students could experience.

Lessons focused on World War II, science, technology, economy, performing arts, visual arts, and the culture and etiquette of the country.

Roseland Park Elementary gifted teacher Alicia Verweij said the gifted program’s goal is to create leaders and introduce those students to world issues.

She said in-depth lessons helps produce strong, future leaders and helps introduce students to ideas and concepts they wouldn’t necessarily have access to outside of school.

The World War II discussion caused the students to form strong opinions on the use of nuclear weapons, Pollitz said.

The teachers discussed the atomic bomb and the affect it continues to have on the people of Japan. Students also read “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” which inspired the students raise money for a worthy cause.

The book tells the story of a young girl, Sadako, who develops leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima. While receiving treatment, she folded 1,000 paper cranes, which in Japanese legend is a request to the gods for a cure.

The students accepted donations for each paper crane they folded and all the money raised is being donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Pollitz said.

“It’s teaching them to think outside themselves,” Pollitz said.

The book also opened up a discussion on how technology has improved the survival rates for people diagnosed with cancers like leukemia and lymphoma and that continuing to fund research efforts is important in order to find cures, said West Side Elementary School gifted teacher Sheryl Hughes.

The students also exchanged letters with pen pals at a school in Japan, Pollitz said.

The letters allowed teachers to explain how to write friendly correspondence.

Even the grant process was a lesson for the students, Verweij said. She said the teachers taking the time and effort to apply for the grant, showed the students there is always a way to do something they’re interested in doing.

She said the teachers’ determination and work demonstrated to the students that they have to work hard and remain dedicated to get what they want.

“You’re teaching them that if they want something bad enough, they can make it happen,” Verweij said.

Hughes said these experiences are important to expand the students’ knowledge and worldview.

“It’s just a little seed and you never know where it’s going to lead,” Hughes said.