A Journey of Imagination: Transforming Lives Through Gunchu Elementary School’s Multicultural Library

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Amaris Lopez

Iyo City ALT 2022-Present

Amaris Lopez, also known as “Reese,” is a proud “Fronteriza,” which is someone being raised between the border of Tijuana, Mexico, which is adjacent to San Diego, California. Reese
is an ALT who has been working in one of the biggest elementary schools in Iyo City, Ehime, since 2022. In addition to being a very dedicated teacher who thrives on global competency and educational equity, she has served as a Chuyo Regional Advisor this past year to support fellow JETs. Amaris “Reese” enjoys hiking, photography, cooking, skating, dancing bachata/salsa, and playing taiko. Amaris`s obsession is coffee and Doctor Martens.

Transforming Lives Through Gunchu Elementary School’s Multicultural Library

I used to love reading books because they took me to magical places where I could imagine myself as a magician, a knight, or an explorer on a trip to Neverland. But as we get older, those hopes frequently diminish, and the life-changing power of reading and creativity tends to disappear. I had no idea that working as an English teacher in Japan would not only rekindle my childhood fantasies but also result in an experience that would change my life and the lives of my pupils. 

Thinking back to my early years in America and all the time I spent in vibrant libraries, I was drawn to the idea of bringing the same magic to Gunchu Elementary School in the charming town of Iyo, Shikoku. I set out to transform our school library into a multicultural inspiration and haven, spurred on by the encouragement of a microgrant from the US-Japan Exchange and Teaching Program Alumni Association (USJETAA).

The US-Japan Exchange and Teaching Program Alumni Association USJETAA is a non-profit organization that aims to promote cultural exchange and understanding between the United States and Japan. They offer microgrants to support projects that foster intercultural awareness and education. The microgrant I received from USJETAA allowed me to transform our school library by providing funds to purchase English-language books that explore American culture and highlight stories from various international origins. This support from USJETAA was instrumental in bringing the magic of reading and creativity to Gunchu Elementary School. 

The idea of classrooms in Japanese schools is not the same as the warm, colorful settings I loved back home in the States. Recognizing the financial limitations my school faced, I took advantage of the microgrant opportunity to create a library rich in culture. My goal was to provide our children with a creative and comfortable environment to spark their interest while introducing them to American and other cultures and the English language.

With over 1,000 pupils, Gunchu Elementary School offered a special challenge. Although the library was spacious, it did not have a wide selection of books—especially English books. Using the microgrant, I carefully selected English-language books that explored American culture and highlighted the stories of people from various international origins, such as Malala Yousafzai, Anne Frank, Leonardo Messi, Frida Kahlo, and others. 

What was once just a library of books became a driving force behind the growth of intercultural awareness and global competency. Hitomi Yoshioka, an English Teacher and Supervisor at Gunchu Elementary, said “…the children are able to obtain information they do not learn in class.”

Yoshioka sensei went on to explain the importance of this, stating, “From the elementary school stage, it is important to make children aware that there are many cultures and people in this world with different cultures and histories than those in Japan. I believe that [this library] will lead to cross-cultural understanding and help them acquire the qualities and attitudes that will enable them to live in harmony with people from all over the world.” 

Through exposure to diverse literature and cultural exchange activities, our students have developed a greater understanding and appreciation for different cultures. This has not only enriched their educational experiences but has also fostered a sense of empathy and open-mindedness. Additionally, the library has become a hub for students to freely express themselves and embark on academically challenging literary adventures.

“The number of children who visit the multicultural corner and pick up books has increased because the atmosphere of the entire library has become brighter, making it more approachable… It made me realize how important it is for us as faculty members to have this kind of perspective.” —4th grade elementary school teacher 

“There are a lot of foreign books, and I would like to read the ones that are multicultural from now on. I think the wall stickers and carpet chairs are really cute. I am excited to read soon.” —4th grade elementary school student 

“I thought the wall was cute. I thought the map carpet was educational. I thought it was amazing that there was so much to do.” —4th grade elementary school student

 

The transformation in our students’ attitudes and engagement with learning is evident in their improved academic performance and the positive change in the school’s overall atmosphere. Not only have the children seen good improvements, but the school as a whole, with its sixty staff members, has experienced a discernible change in atmosphere and tone.

This project has demonstrated the transformational potential of giving without expecting anything in return to the community. And I hope that this is only the beginning; I plan to submit another microgrant application again next year for more funding in order to improve the library even more. The accomplishment of this project has confirmed that even tiny deeds can have a profound impact on someone’s life, and it has also reinforced my will to change the world for the better.

As I write this article, if you told me that I could create something that would have a lasting impact on a community before I departed from the airport in San Francisco, California, I wouldn’t have ever imagined something like this. This just showcases the power that one person can have in a community by just taking initiative. Being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) involves more than just teaching English; it includes being a cultural bridge and having an impact on our communities, of which the first step is taking initiative.

The multicultural library at Gunchu Elementary School has truly been a journey of imagination and transformation. The library demonstrates the power books have, and cultural exchange has sparked the curiosity and creativity of our students, enriched their educational experiences, and fostered a sense of empathy and open-mindedness. As educators, we have the power to build environments that inspire and change lives, and the multicultural library is a testament to the profound impact that one person can have in a community. Let us continue to encourage a love of discovery, language acquisition, and the celebration of various cultures for years to come through the power of reading and imagination. 

“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” —Malala Yousafzai

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