Minamata High School Continues Virtual Programming at ELI

In 2022 Montana will celebrate 40 years of sisterhood with Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan. Since 1982, Montana and Kumamoto have made many business, governmental, and educational connections. The English Language Institute (ELI) has been fortunate to be included in these exchanges. ELI has connected with Minamata High School in Kumamoto Prefecture to provide English courses centered on environmentalism and sustainable development. Beginning in 2020, programming shifted from in-person to virtual instruction and exchange. The change in course delivery has allowed this special program to expand from a two-week course to one that spans several months. More time between class sessions gives Minamata students more time to conduct research, complete coursework, and connect with conversation partners.

A dedicated group of ten Minamata High School students put on their school uniforms and attend ELI classes via Zoom on Saturday mornings (Friday evenings in Montana). Students in the current session are studying the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pairs of students are researching individual SDGs, including Zero Hunger, Gender Equality, and Climate Action, and preparing presentations for our final class at the end of January. In 2021, students who participated in the ELI session were asked to deliver their final presentations (in English!) to a large audience as part of a Super Global High School summit in Japan.

Minamata High School is one of 56 Super Global High Schools (SGH) in Japan. The goal of the SGH program is to prepare students to be globalized citizens capable of communicating about and solving social and environmental issues. The SGH program requires high school students to conduct research both in Japan and internationally as part of their learning. As students prepare their final research presentations for ELI, they are considering how to best teach others about the specific SDG they are researching and how to realistically reach the goal by 2030.

In class, ELI teachers have been delivering lectures and assigning homework on SDG #11, Sustainable Cities & Communities, and SDG #15, Life on Land. Through examining these two goals, Minamata students have been able to take virtual tours of Missoula and Montana to learn how citizens and government entities are working to achieve these specific goals in our community and our state. For instance, students have learned about Missoula’s Mountain Line transit and its effort to promote sustainable transportation through electric vehicles. Minamata students have also learned about conservation and preservation in Montana. Students have read articles and listened to podcasts on sustainable use of natural resources and strict protection of Wilderness areas. 

Each class ends with a conversation partner session. Over 15 UM students and local community members have volunteered to spend part of their Friday evenings helping Minamata students practice their English conversation skills. Students and volunteers are assigned to Zoom breakout rooms where they spend time getting to know one another, sharing cultural information, and creating friendships. 

The current Minamata session comes to a close on January 21, but if you are interested in volunteering as a conversation partner, or even as an audience member for final presentations, it is not too late to be involved. You may contact Sara Schroeder at sara.schroeder@mso.umt.edu for more information. And be sure to keep an eye out this year for special events commemorating 40 years of a very special sister-state relationship with Kumamoto!