October 18, 2006 Edition

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Charlotte Wheeless (on screen) answers a question asked by Edward Harthorn (right), a fifth grade Walnut Ridge student. Wheeless and her students have participated in two videoconferences while she is in Japan. Mike Pinkston (left) coordinated the conference.

Charlotte Wheeless shares
with students while in Japan

Gene Wheeless, Charlotte's husband, and their daughter, Jessica, listen and watch with students during the videoconference with Charlotte from Japan.
John Bland
TD Publisher

Charlotte Wheeless, Walnut Ridge middle-level science teacher, will be returning this weekend after spending three weeks in Japan. She was selected as a participant in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. She is one of 600 teachers selected from 2,300 applicants to visit Japan in 2006.

During her stay in Japan, she has been able to communicate with her students via a photo blog website and through two live videoconferences. The second of these was held Tuesday morning.

Fifth and sixth grade students, teachers and administrators gathered yesterday at 8:15 a.m. in Van Ellis Cafetorium for the conference. Wheeless' husband, Gene, and daughter, Jessica, a WRHS sophomore, were also present. In Japan, the time was 10:15 p.m.

Wearing traditional Japanese dress, Wheeless was visible to all from a large screen hanging from the cafetorium's stage. Mike Pinkston, school technology coordinator, oversaw the event.

Wheeless shared many general facts about the Japanese schools and culture. The sound was a bit ahead of the video, but Wheeless spoke distinctly, with short pauses, and was easy to understand. She smiled and laughed often, obviously excited about her experiences, as well as the opportunity to visit with her students, though 6,000 miles away.

She was also able to see her students, and after her general comments, several students went to the front to ask her pre-written questions.

Wheeless shared about her stay in the home of a Japanese family, which she had experienced following the first videoconference. She stayed with a single mom and her 10-year-old daughter. The host daughter had many questions about Wheeless' American students. Wheeless shared photos of students dressed in 50's day attire for homecoming week. "She thought that was so funny," Wheeless said.

She went grocery shopping with her host and was offered choices such as octopus and dried squid. She did enjoy wontons, dumplings filled with pork.

"I've eaten so much seaweed, I can't even begin to tell you," Wheeless laughed. While in Japan, she has also eaten raw fish, which she said she swallowed without really tasting, and even raw whale.

Wheeless said the nuclear testing in North Korea has made her a bit nervous, because the Japanese newspapers report on the radiation levels and if it is safe to breathe the air.

Her host commented that Wheeless was not the "rude American" that she expected her to be. Wheeless explained that the Japanese people are extremely courteous and considerate, and she tried to reciprocate.

When the Japanese, students or citizens, have a cold or other contagious condition, they wear a mask to keep from spreading their germs. Wheeless also related that when she asked for directions on the Tokyo subway, she was not only assisted but was escorted to her destination.

During the conference, Wheeless also showed several Japanese items and artifacts.

While in Japan, Wheeless has not only experienced Japanese culture, but she has visited schools and colleges in the country to learn about the education system. She added that Japanese youth are not required to attend high school and that parents must pay if they send their children to high school. She added that the school day is a long one for Japanese children.

Besides the videoconferences, Walnut Ridge students have learned about Japan and Wheeless' travels in their social studies classes taught by Linda Pierce. Also during the three-week trip, Wheeless has shared her experiences by regularly posting photos on her photo blog website.

Sponsored by the Japanese government, the program that Wheeless has been a part of is designed to promote greater intercultural understanding between the United States and Japan.

Without a doubt, Wheeless' experiences have provided, and will continue to provide, her students with a greater understanding of the Japanese and their culture.

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