Ms. Jessica Haxhi, teacher at Maloney Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut, has been selected as the 2008 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award recipient in the Japanese Language Category.
The Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award recognizes exceptional teachers who further mutual understanding between Americans and Japanese. The award is presented annually to two pre-college teachers in two categories, Humanities and Japanese Language, and consists of a certificate of recognition, a $2,500 monetary award, and $5,000 in project funds.
The Award is named in honor of Mr. Elgin Heinz, a pioneer in educating American pre-collegiate students about Asia. Born in China in 1913, he spent forty years teaching in San Francisco's public schools. Mr. Heinz served as Education Director for the Japan Society in 1960, and is nationally known for his many curriculum guides on Asia.
An independent national selection committee, consisting of leaders in the fields of Japanese language and cultural education in the United States, selected Ms. Haxhi based on her outstanding long-term commitment to teaching about Japan and the Japanese language as well as her national leadership in this area.
Ms. Jessica Haxhi currently teaches grades 3-5 and Pre-kindergarten classes at Maloney Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut. In the summers, she teaches a K-8 world languages methodology course for Southern Connecticut State University and the Connecticut Department of Education.
Jessica first went to Japan to learn Japanese in 1988, as a junior at Duke University. She attended Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka for a semester abroad program. She was lucky to have made some Japanese friends while still in the U.S. through her childhood hobby - flying radio-controlled model airplanes. On weekends, these friends and many others helped her to travel to model airplane events all over central Japan and to practice her Japanese.
After graduating from college in 1990, Jessica returned to Japan on the JET Program to teach in Osaka for one year. After returning home, she found a job in an ESL program for Japanese college students and eventually as a part-time teacher of Japanese at the high school level.
When Jessica applied for a position as an elementary school teacher of Japanese in 1994, she wasn't really sure that she could teach Japanese to young children. Their enthusiasm and ability was overwhelming and she fell in love with the age level. The Japanese Language and Culture Program is now in its 14th year and serves all 550 children in the school. Jessica's close friend and colleague, Kazumi Yamashita (a former JALEX assistant), teaches grades K-2 and their constant collaboration has been a key to the success and longevity of the program.
Jessica especially enjoys discussing advocacy for Japanese programs and early language learning in general. Some of the advocacy initiatives she enjoys are a yearly pen pal program with an elementary school in Osaka, a twice-yearly "Lunch with the Sensei's" with parents at a local Japanese restaurant, the sending of "interactive homework" for children to show parents what they have learned, maintaining an extensive website, a video-based project with each grade level that parents can view at home, and trying to keep lessons meaningful and fun for all students.
Jessica is the past president of the National Council of Japanese Language Teachers and she worked on the writing committees for the national Japanese standards and the Connecticut World Languages Framework. She has been a demonstration teacher for world language methods' institutes at Concordia College and the National Foreign Language Resource Center at Iowa State University. Jessica was the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award winner for Connecticut in 2002. She is currently serving on the Board of the Directors of the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Jessica plans to use the grant award to purchase Ipods for her classroom. She has recently begun to use small-group instruction in her upper-grade classes. Students in small groups are given meaningful, language-rich tasks to complete during the class while she works with one group doing conversation practice. Ipods will allow some of the small groups to be engaged in listening, viewing, and voice-recording tasks with a tool that students find very exciting!
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