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Washington State University

Japanese educator brings smile, eagerness to Pullman

Fumiko Tamura, visiting educator from Japan
Educator Fumiko Tamura from Nishinomiya

Each fall, one of the brightest smiles at the WSU College of Education is on the face of a Japanese educator who is visiting the Pullman campus thanks to a 24-year-old partnership between the college and the Nishinomiya Board of Education.

Our visitor this year is Fumiko Tamura. She’s here to improve her English language skills and teaching techniques, so spends much of her time in WSU’s Intensive American Language Center and also observes in College of Education classrooms. She’s eager to share what she learns with colleagues back home. In the picture here, she’s sitting in on Assistant Professor Hal Jackson’s classroom management course.

Fumiko is a supervisor at the Nishinomiya Board’s Study and Research Division. Last year, she taught elementary school. Her district has just started English activity classes for fifth and sixth graders.

“I’m very, very happy to be here. I appreciate everything and everyone.” says Fumiko, whose husband, Masataka, was here for a week during her first visit to the United States. Fumiko arrived in August and will leave Oct. 15.

As part of the Nishinomiya partnership, WSU doctoral candidate Mari Stair is spending a second year teaching in Japan. For information on this and other WSU College of Education international connections, click here.

Teacher David Ruiz lived his dream, but not for long enough

David Ruiz at WSU graduationWhen Araceli Frias last visited with David Ruiz, it was over dinner in Kennewick. She hadn’t seen her family friend since she’d begun her doctoral program at the Washington State university College of Education. She was eager to discuss his work as a bilingual teacher. They also chatted about trips they wanted to take, their life goals. The future.

David had only a month of future left. He died in a July 8 car accident, while on an annual visit to Mexico. He was 32.

Over the past week, the wave of sad news washed over his family and friends, as well as his colleagues and students at Mark Twain Elementary School in Pasco. As it reached the WSU Pullman campus, where David earned a teaching degree, faculty who knew him were stunned.

“He was one of my favorite students ever,” said Associate Professor Paula Groves Price. “He was the sweetest person. He tried so hard.”

David Ruiz graduates from Brewster High School“He was an inspiration to everyone,” remembered Associate Professor Lynda Paznokas, now retired. “Even though he was dealing with huge family issues while he was going to school, he didn’t let that get in the way of his studies. His eye was always on the goal of becoming an outstanding teacher.”

David, who came from a family of migrant farm workers, could have been a case study for Araceli’s doctoral research on minority access to college. But getting into college is one thing. Staying there is another. Fortunately for David, he had a lot of help while he was at WSU.

Staci Bickelhaupt, certification coordinator for the College of Education, remembers that WSU faculty and staff  were “huge cheerleaders” for David. They included Chris Sodorff, who oversees student teaching assignments; Paula, who gave him a laptop computer and printer she no longer needed; and Professor Skip Paznokas, who helped get him a scholarship.

David did his part. He grew up in the orchards, knew what it was like to work hard. His perseverance was recognized at the May 2005 commencement, when he was highlighted as an outstanding student.

Pictures posted by David’s family include one at his graduation from Brewster High School. It shows him nearly jumping for joy. When he finally donned the Cougar cap and gown, he was the first in his family to earn a college degree.

He was hired by Mark Twain Elementary right after graduation. He began fulfilling his goal of teaching children in both English and his native Spanish. David was the kind of teacher who would lunch with the kids, volunteer for extra duties, and talk to his students about the importance of being a good person.

David completed the  Professional Certification Program for teachers in 2010. Pam Scott was his WSU adviser in the program.

“I loved how he modeled and taught respect. Every time I observed in his classroom, the children made their way over to formally greet me and shake my hand,” she said. “He loved teaching math, and it was magical to watch his third-graders explain their thinking during number talks. He encouraged them to share their ideas.”

David practiced capoeira, a form of athletic Latin American dance. He was taking salsa lessons. He and his father lived together in Pasco. He was like a son to Araceli’s mom, Maria Susana Frais, a former teaching colleague.

Besides his contributions to the Latina/o community, Areceli said, David was an important part of her family’s life. “I will miss him dearly.”

See also: WSU scholarship honors memory of teacher David Ruiz.

An educator’s view of Kabul, via Seoul

Levi McNeil in Afghanistan
Levi McNeil in Afghanistan

Red neon crosses. Blue-domed mosques.

For Levi McNeil, those skyline images illustrate the contrast between Korea, where the WSU alumnus has lived for three years, and Afghanistan, which he visited for the first time this spring. The difference was not just between Christianity and Islam, but the influence of religion on daily life.

“Religion seems to play a much more significant role in Afghan culture than in Korean culture,” he said. “In Afghanistan, beliefs play out in everyday activities. The days of the week that you go out, the types of food you prepare, the roles of men and women, the age you get married.”

Levi, a native of Rogers, Arkansas, earned his Ph.D. from WSU in 2009. He is an assistant professor at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul. He went to Kabul in April at the invitation of his former professor, Joy Egbert, who asked him to assist her in teaching workshops for the Afghan eLearning English Support Project. The College of Education coordinates the U.S.-funded effort to build the capacity of Afghan universities in information technology, English language, and e-learning.


Besides religion, another major difference that Levi noted was classroom behavior. While he encourages his Korean students to share their viewpoints, they often hesitate to explain or defend their positions. Although attitudes seem to be changing, the student’s role in Korea has traditionally been to listen quietly as the teacher imparted knowledge.

“The Afghan students I worked with were not at all shy about giving their opinions,” Levi said.

Most of those students are themselves teachers. They were at the workshops to learn how to share language and technology skills with their own students.

“The Afghan project is about empowering these people so they can do it their own way,” he said. “The workshops were a negotiation between what we were saying and what they practiced on a cultural level, so they could meet their goals.”

Their ambitious goals include teaching all Afghan university courses in English within five years.

Impressive people

Levi expects to return to Afghanistan, probably in September. He’ll hold workshops to familiarize the Afghan teachers with course materials and content developed at WSU. He’ll introduce new classroom technology. And he’ll visit some of the nine English-language learning centers to evaluate their offerings and offer support to faculty.

In April, Joy and Levi used a party game to break the ice with workshop participants. There was much laughter, and the American visitors emerged with the nicknames “Lucky Levi” and “Jolly Joy.”

What impressed Levi most during his visit to Afghanistan?  The people.

“In a country that’s been at war forever, it would be easy for them to be very pessimistic and to lose hope,” he said. “But they were positive, they were happy. They were always courteous to me as a foreigner. Also, they took initiative. They knew there was a possibility for change and they were not afraid to work hard.”



Helping tribal teens find a sense of self

This week, for the seventh summer in a row, a lively group of teens from the Coeur d’Alene reservation came to WSU Pullman to learn about themselves and think about their futures.  The following article, “Young tribal members find a sense of self at weeklong workshop,” is reprinted with permission from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

By Christina Lords, staff writer
June 10, 2011

Joy. Laughter. Happiness.

Leadership campers Kianna Peone and Tillie Torpey
Campers Kianna Peone, left, and Tillie Torpey. Photo by Geoff Crimmins

These are Kaila Wakan’s self described gifts – gifts she’s learned she can share with family members, classmates, her community and beyond.

Wakan is one of about 50 participants in the seventh annual Coeur d’Alene Tribe Leadership Development Camp, taking place this week at the Washington State University Pullman campus.

This is her fifth year at the workshop.

“This helps me be a better role model for my younger brothers and sisters,” she said. “Some of the kids at my school do drugs and things like that … some of them are my friends. I care for them. I want to help them. This helps me do that.”

The workshop has a different theme each year to build upon the last, said camp organizer Paula Groves Price, an associate professor in the College of Education. Any students ages 13-17 who live on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation can participate.

About 50 students take part each year.

The workshops employ a more holistic approach to educating children patterned in part after elements in the Native American medicine wheel, focusing on physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health, Price said.

“Our aim is to really help students think about who they are, to think about their identities on multiple levels,” she said. “It’s important for them to understand a positive sense of self.”

Students sometimes feel an internal conflict about identifying who they are because of cultures past and present, Price said. Some identify themselves by their traditional, historical culture and some identify more generationally in a modern sense, Price said.

“They’re developing mentally, trying to figure who they are now and who they are going to become,” Price said. “We’re just trying to help them through that process.”

The workshops aim to help the students find a balance between the two, she said.

The camp utilizes different learning methods or abstract activities to get the students to start to analyze issues on a broader scale, such as their age, gender and identity. Those activities also lead students to start thinking about their purpose or future, and those strengths can then be applied to a specific field of study, going to college and eventually earning a degree, Price said.

Place-based education gets the students to think about they spaces they occupy and how they interact with others and their surrounding environment, she said.

This year’s theater workshops encourage students to physically act out ideas and themes while using the entire body because that kind of learning typically helps the students remember more from the lessons, Price said.

Developing all senses – not just those usually related to academics – helps students make a more meaningful connection with the material, she said.

Sports and other games are used as team building exercises throughout the week, and students are encouraged to write, draw or create other art to detail what they’ve learned at the workshops in a personalized journal.