So about a month ago (I know, I'm lazy) I was fortunate enough to participate in CHESS 2007. CHESS is a 3-day English camp for high school students that has been held in Shimane for many, many years. This year's CHESS theme was Pirates of the Carribean, and with Captain Titia and First Mate Donna, I joined the crew of the Green Emerald in search of lost treasure.
Our ship was also crewed by eight wonderful young Japanese people. They were a little shy at first, but they were certainly a joy to be around. By the end of the event, however, they had opened up and begun speaking so much English that we couldn't shut them up if we wanted to. It was truly an amazing transformation. Japanese education is dominated by repetative tasks, ceremony, and useless rote learning...but the CHESS camp offered these students a chance to be creative, think on the fly, and to really express themselves.
Each group had to create a group flag, a group cheer, a group dance, a treasure map, pirate costumes and props, along with a seven minute skit, in English. In the skit the pirate crew had to use the map to find buried treasure, while challenging a monster who gave them a riddle to solve. All the groups did a really great job. Here's the video of our group's skit, sorry for the low-quality audio:
However, I think nothing can illustrate the transformative power of CHESS more than the dance that was held on the second night. You have to understand that these kids (already in high school) had never been introduced to a proper boy/girl dance in their entire lives. The whole thing was only about two hours long, but the kids came out of their shells and were partying with the best of them. There was a smile on every face and sweat on every brow as the kids got their collective groove on.
One girl, the best English speaker in our group and certainly one of the more outgoing students there, couldn't stop herself from crying later in the night after the dance. I sat and talked with her and she told me (in English mind you) how she didn't want to go home, she didn't want it to end. You see, many of the kids who come to CHESS are the ones who don't necessarily fit into the Japanese way of doing things...hence their interest in a foreign language. Many of them are probably not with the "in" crowd in their school, but at CHESS they were among friends from all over the prefecture for three whole days...and you can really tell how much it means to them.
Also, I was lucky enough to get to see a former student of mine, Fumie. Fumie was crucial to me actually enjoying the JET Program in my first year, and with her gone school is a lot less fun for me. However seeing her over CHESS, seeing how much more confident she has become in her English (she was always confident) just made me stand in awe of what a clever, amazing and brave little woman she is. I was so proud of her.
So yeah, CHESS was an amazing experience for the kids, but it was also an amazing experience for me. All to often the monotony of my daily job can dig me into a hole where I feel like I'm not making a difference over here, but it's things like CHESS that catapult me right back out and make me want to try harder and be the best ALT that I can be.
See the rest of the photos here