January 24, 2020

Catholic School Week Supplement

St. Gabriel alumnus project with school class opens ‘new doors’ to Japan

Riley Keal looks at a certificate in Japanese script as Cameron Tipton answers questions about Japan in the background during his visit to the sixth-grade class of his alma mater, St. Gabriel School in Connersville, on Jan. 10. Tipton teaches English as a second language in Japan and helped coordinate a video exchange between his Japanese sixth-grade students and the sixth-graders at St. Gabriel. (Submitted photo by Susie Tipton)

Riley Keal looks at a certificate in Japanese script as Cameron Tipton answers questions about Japan in the background during his visit to the sixth-grade class of his alma mater, St. Gabriel School in Connersville, on Jan. 10. Tipton teaches English as a second language in Japan and helped coordinate a video exchange between his Japanese sixth-grade students and the sixth-graders at St. Gabriel. (Submitted photo by Susie Tipton)

By Natalie Hoefer

CONNERSVILLE—In a school in the town of Okuizumo, Japan, sixth-grade students have developed a recent curiosity about how to raise corn and pumpkins. And they were amazed to learn that there are more than just large cities in America.

Meanwhile, at St. Gabriel School in Connersville, sixth-grade students sampled Japanese mochi rice, seaweed and candy. They marveled at such things as a real sumo wrestling belt and a certificate written in Japanese script.

The educational experience developed through a video exchange between sixth-graders of both schools. The project was the brainchild of two teachers in Japan—one being 25-year-old St. Gabriel alumnus Cameron Tipton.

Since the summer of 2017, Tipton has taught English as a second language (ESL) at six schools in the Okuizumo area through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program, JET for short.

The project between the two classes began when he was approached by a fellow ESL teacher in Okuizumo.

“The lesson we were working on over there was teaching sixth-grade Japanese students how to introduce their hometown [in English],” says Tipton. “He asked if we could take a video of the sixth-graders here [in Okuizumo] introducing their town in English, and send it to the sixth-graders at

St. Gabriel” where Tipton’s mother teaches second grade.

“I got the idea of, well, if we send one to [St. Gabriel], what if they send one back, introducing Connersville to the Japanese students.”

‘A fun experience’

Susie approached Mary Harcourt, who teaches social studies and science for fourth through sixth grades at St. Gabriel. Harcourt says she “jumped on the chance. We had already studied world super powers, so the timing was great. The kids did all the work.”

In the video, students displayed pictures of items they discussed, like combines and the local train station. They demonstrated how to dribble a basketball and throw a football. One student held a crucifix, another brought in a corn stalk, and one student talked about her family’s pumpkin farm.

“We really enjoyed it,” says Lyla Davidson of making the video.

Her classmate, Paolo Amora, adds it was “a fun experience exchanging and learning about their town and their culture.”

Connersville youths were surprised by some things they learned from the Okuizumo students’ video.

For instance, says Dylann Edwards, “They all had the same color of skin and hair, but we have people with different skin color, and people with different colored hair.”

The students were fascinated by their counterparts’ mention of the popularity of sumo wrestling in Japan. They even had the opportunity to see videos of Tipton participate in—and even win rounds of—a sumo wrestling tournament in Okuizumo.

As for the Japanese students, Tipton says they “were surprised when they heard kids their own age speaking native English and had trouble understanding them—they’d only heard us [ESL teachers] speaking very slow, simple English.”

The St. Gabriel students were not overly fond of the sweet mochi rice. Nor did they care for the seaweed Tipton brought back and gave them to sample when he visited them on Jan. 10 while home for a few weeks.

But they liked the Japanese hard candy, and they were interested in his sumo belt and a certificate written in Japanese script.

“Overall, they enjoyed hearing about Japan and learning some new things,” Tipton says of his time with the students. “At the end, Harcourt asked if anyone would be interested in visiting Japan, and almost everyone raised their hand.”

‘Accomplished my goal and more’

Tipton says his hope for the video exchange and his visit to the St. Gabriel sixth-graders was to “introduce them to the world beyond Connersville,” a world he discovered by teaching English in Japan. He started during the summer of 2017 after graduating from Indiana University with a major in history and a minor in Japanese. He plans to teach in the JET program through one more school year.

“I really enjoy living there,” says the Connersville native. “The kids are great, the teaching is great.”

He hopes to do another project with Harcourt, perhaps another video exchange.

As for the current video exchange, Tipton says, “It got my students interested in Indiana, a state they’d never heard of. The [St. Gabriel] kids here have seen my videos, seen sumo, learned about a little town in Japan they never heard of. It opened new doors for the St. Gabriel students and for my students in Japan.

“I think it accomplished my goal and more.”

(To see the video the St. Gabriel sixth-grade students sent to the youths in Japan and to see other videos about St. Gabriel alumnus Cameron Tipton’s life in Japan, go to www.youtube.com/user/iZaBeCameron/videos.)

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