2010 Award Recipients

Mrs. Masayo Nakamura
Japanese Language Category
Murray High School and Calloway County High School

Mrs. Masayo Nakamura

Mrs. Masayo Nakamura was born and raised in Japan. She has been influenced by a rich variety of Japanese language teaching opportunities, and has been able to benefit greatly from them in developing her own teaching skills and strategies over more than 16 years of teaching.

After obtaining a BA in history in Japan, she first became aware of her passion for teaching her native language through a brief period as a Japanese instructor at a language school. Shortly after that, she traveled to Malaysia, where she had the opportunity to design and implement the first Japanese language program at a secondary school in Kedah. She was also a member of an authoring group for a Japanese textbook for Malaysian secondary schools.

Upon returning to Japan, she taught at a number of different places such as the Industrial Technical Youth Development Association, the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, the International Training Service Language Center, and the Japanese Language Research Institute (国立国語研究所).

In 1996, she moved with her family to the United States. She enrolled in the graduate linguistics program at the University of Florida and obtained her MA degree in 2004. From there, she followed her husband to Murray State University (MSU) in Murray, Kentucky, where he had been offered a faculty position in the Department of Biology, and began teaching an undergraduate course on the culture of Japan.

Shortly afterward, she received an invitation to teach part-time in a pilot Japanese language program in a local high school. The impact of her teaching became evident quickly, and she was offered a fulltime three-year opportunity to establish Japanese language programs at two local high schools under an expanded pilot program called Project 50-50, which was established with partial support from United States Japan Foundation and Japan Foundation grant awards.

During this period, her students finished consistently at the top of the Kentucky language festival competitions.  By her fourth year of teaching, she had developed Japanese language programs sufficiently robust to be self-sustaining. As a result, she is now teaching Japanese fulltime to students in grades 9-12 in Calloway County High school and Murray High school, completely supported by the two school districts. The programs she started have four levels of Japanese language as well as Advanced Placement (AP) Japanese and Japanese Proficiency Test preparation, providing her students with many exciting learning opportunities.

Mrs. Nakamura set up numerous interactive opportunities for her students such as a program of high school exchange students from Japan, and video chats and pen pal arrangements with schools in Japan. She also provided individualized instruction to a number of her students when they encountered challenging situations. In short, she went more than the extra mile to make sure that her students have every opportunity to succeed.

During her teaching in Kentucky schools, Mrs. Nakamura also advanced professionally. She became fully certified as an Oral Proficiency Interview Tester of Japanese for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). She became qualified for teaching AP Japanese courses. More significantly, she became the first teacher in Kentucky to become officially certified to teach Japanese.

Since Mrs. Nakamura has created active Japanese programs in local school districts where there were none previously, the impact on the community has been phenomenal. MSU recognized the high quality of her students as they graduated from high school and the Modern Language Department established Kentucky’s first Japanese major and minor programs. Based on these programs, MSU plans to start a Japanese language teacher certification program as well.

Through the success of Project 50-50, she has inspired another school district to establish its own Japanese language program. The success of her students at state language competitions has raised the bar for Kentucky. In short, she has had a major impact on Japanese language teaching in Kentucky.

Mrs. Nakamura is appreciative of the project funding from the Heinz Award and is excited about the extra opportunities it will bring to her students and to the local area. She has divided her award project into two separate components. In one component, part of the funds will be leveraged with matching funds from Murray State University to involve her students with university students in collaborative activities such as the renovation of a local Japanese garden and the establishment of a community Japanese festival. The other component will be focused on the schools where she teaches, and will include purchasing additional technology and cultural items, hosting guest speakers, and conducting service learning projects in the local schools and community.

Mr. Adam Podell
Japanese Language Category
Japanese Language Teacher
South Lakes High School in Reston, VA

Mr. Adam Podell

Mr. Adam Podell has been teaching Japanese for Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, VA since 1998. He began his teaching career split between two different high schools within the district, but quickly built both programs into full-time positions. For the last ten years he has taught levels 1-5 at West Springfield High School. Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year he will be teaching at South Lakes High School in Reston, VA where he will be instituting an IB Japanese Program.

Podell’s love for the Japanese language and culture developed almost accidentally, but nothing has more significantly impacted his life. Shortly after graduating from James Madison University in 1991 with a BA in history, a friend who was teaching English on the JET Program invited him to visit Japan. During that ten day vacation he was offered an opportunity to teach English at an elementary school in a rural village in Fukushima Prefecture. Over the course of the next two years, Podell immersed himself in the Japanese language and culture and along the way discovered two important things about himself. The first was that he absolutely loved the Japanese language, particularly the intricacies of its structure and its sociolinguistics. The second was that although he enjoyed working with young people, he had little interest in teaching the English language.

Determined to master Japanese, Podell returned to the US and entered Cornell University’s Japanese FALCON Program in June of 1994. FALCON was a turning point in Podell’s career path and he counts himself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to study under and TA for the director of FALCON, Professor Robert Sukle. “At that point, I knew I wanted a Japan related career, but I was not sure about which field. It was Sukle-sensei that helped me see that I could combine my love for working with young people with my passion for the Japanese language by becoming a Japanese teacher”. After FALCON, Podell returned to Japan for three more years before embarking on his Japanese teaching career.

Aside from daily classroom instruction, Podell has been involved in many activities that promote Japanese language and cultural education. He has served as director of the Virginia Governor’s Japanese Language Academy; a residential summer enrichment program run by the Virginia Board of Education. He is also past vice president of the Mid-Atlantic Association for Teachers of Japanese (MAATJ) during which time he helped successfully organize the Japan Bowl regional competition. At West Springfield High School he has sponsored a Japanese Club, a chapter of the Japanese National Honor Society, and has chaperoned summer travel and home-stay trips to Kagoshima, Japan. Since 2001, Podell has been co-sponsor of the Japanese Garden project at West Springfield, a 100% student designed, built, and maintained cross-curricular project with the Honors Biology classes.

Recently Mr. Podell has been investigating innovative ways to incorporate technology into his instruction, particularly for the study of kanji. He intends to use the project funds to purchase iPod Touches for his classroom. The iPod Touch devices will help his students learn Japanese through authentic interactive tasks that will allow for practice, remediation, and text collaboration.