PORTLAND — I spent five weeks this summer working as a teacher in Portland’s sister city of Shinagawa, Japan. I came home with a deep appreciation for the value of learning about different cultures. That dovetails perfectly with the new, international focus at Deering High School.

When I arrived in July at my assigned school in Shinagawa, I was given a cubby with a pair of slippers inside. According to Japanese custom, everyone removes street shoes upon entering the building.

I soon learned that students do most of the work to keep the school shipshape. Every afternoon, they sweep, mop and complete other cleaning chores. One might expect grumbling, but instead I witnessed cheerfulness. The students took pride in their school and they felt a sense of ownership, deepened by their responsibility to help with the upkeep.

Each morning, the teachers gather in one large room to hear morning announcements and discuss their plans for the day. I love how that creates opportunities for the staff to collaborate.

Shinagawa is steeped in history, traditions and ceremonies. All of the students lined up to welcome me. When I entered the Central Office with other teachers, the staff stood and applauded as a sign of respect.

Students work hard on their studies, even when teachers aren’t overseeing them. At noon, they served lunch to all of us in the classroom. They cleaned up afterward, recycling everything.

They also know how to let loose and have fun. Among the many thank-you cards I received at the end of my stay was one from two friends who wrote: “We are crazy girls. Thank you for teaching us. English is very difficult but enjoyed English with Mr. Waltz. Please buy us CD.”

So, what does this have to do with Deering High School?

Deering decided more than a year ago to join the International Studies School Network. We recognize that our graduates will enter an increasingly globalized world, with competitors and, perhaps, collaborators in other countries. We need to prepare them.

We are focusing on the four key aspects of global competence: investigating the world; recognizing that there are many perspectives; communicating ideas, and taking action on a topic that might be local or international. Our teachers are weaving those themes throughout the curriculum at Deering.

For example, some students in English classes read the book “What Is the What,” which tells how one boy is affected by civil war in his Sudanese homeland. Working with the Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland, they learned more about the issues raised in the book, then presented their work for peer review.

Recent immigrant students in another class are working with the local police to communicate their ideas about police in their home countries and to learn about the role of the police in Portland.

Deering is expanding its world language offerings to include Arabic and Mandarin. Deering students will be able to participate in international programming at the University of New England’s Center for Global Humanities and the World Affairs Council.

I hope that someday we will provide opportunities for Deering students to spend time in another country as part of their high school experience. And I hope that our school can host students and teachers from Shinagawa.

I returned from my Japanese experience with ideas for improving Deering by incorporating some of the practices I’d seen in Shinagawa.

For example, we’ve created a space at Deering where cluster leaders can work together and share ideas. We’re also seeking ways to deepen students’ ownership in the school. As one step, we broadened the membership of the Presidents’ Council – our version of a student council. Until this year, the council included only the four class presidents. We have enlarged it to include the presidents of all of the school’s clubs and activities.

I’m excited by the ways that our students are learning about the world from right here in Portland, Maine.


– Special to the Press Herald

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