2017 Award Recipients

Ms. Yoshimi Yamagata Aoyagi

Ms. Yoshimi Yamagata Aoyagi
Japanese Language Category
Teacher of Japanese Language
East Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill High School
Chapel Hill, NC


Yoshimi Yamagata Aoyagi’s work as an educator started in 1978.  Since then, she created countless opportunities for students of all ages to learn about the language and ethos of Japan.

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in British and American Literature in Japan, Ms. Aoyagi first became aware of her passion for teaching as an English instructor at a language school in Tokyo.  Shortly after that, she enrolled in the graduate foreign languages program at West Virginia University, where she obtained her master’s degree.  Following graduation, Ms. Aoyagi served as a Japanese language instructor at esteemed institutions of higher learning across the United States, before finally settling down in central North Carolina.  After years teaching at the university level, Ms. Aoyagi left to touch the lives of younger scholars.

Since she first came to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, its Japanese programs have flourished because she exposes students to the challenges and rewards of learning a foreign language.  Ms. Aoyagi has a reputation for being strict; her classes are rigorous and she sets high expectations. Nonetheless, her students know her best for fostering a classroom environment that is inclusive, exciting, and inspiring.  As one student described during an interview on NPR, “we sometimes refer to Aoyagi sensei as our second mother.”

Understanding that learning a foreign language requires experiences outside of the classroom, Ms. Aoyagi set up numerous interactive opportunities for her students, including the creation of an immersive exchange program with schools across Japan.  During the annual exchange trips she coordinates, her students attend Japanese language classes, as well as college-level courses in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts.  Additionally, the students live with host families, thereby strengthening their Japanese language abilities through spontaneous conversation and friendly debate.  Since 2009 alone, these experiences have touched the lives of over 120 students and their families.

Ms. Aoyagi is gracious and enthusiastic to be a recipient of the 2017 Elgin Heinz Teacher Award.  She divided her award project into two separate components to support her student’s efforts in competing in regional and national Japanese contests.  In one component, Ms. Aoyagi will purchase her school’s very first computers with Japanese font support, finally permitting her students to read, type, and research in Japanese in the classroom.  This investment in new technology will enhance the opportunities for the schools’ Japanese program far into the future.  The other component will allow Ms. Aoyagi to award scholarships to students to attend the All-USA High School Japanese Speech and Essay Contests in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her goal is to improve the number and diversity of students who can participate in these highly competitive and extremely revered contests.

Ms. Aoyagi’s decades-long career demonstrates her sustained commitment to improving mutual understanding between Americans and Japanese, and she has made considerable contributions to enhancing students’ knowledge of foreign language.

Ms. Sarah Campbell
Humanities Category
Ketchikan High School
Ketchikan, AK

Sarah Campbell is an English teacher at Ketchikan High School located in southeast Alaska.  She teaches a sophomore level World Literature course, as well as a variety of thematic-based, junior/senior courses which include Speech, Short Stories, Literature into Film, and Asian Literature.

In 2005, Sarah’s long time interest in Japan prompted her to apply for an East Asian literature seminar at Indiana University. That experience launched an enduring professional commitment to teaching and learning about East Asia.  As a result of this one-week summer workshop, Sarah created a new offering on Asian literature at her high school and has been teaching that class ever since. Since 2005, she has participated in seventeen Asia-focused summer institutes, online courses, and study tours to China and Japan through the auspices of the Program for Teaching East Asia (TEA) at the University of Colorado, the East Asia Resource Center at the University of Washington, Korean Academy for Educators through UCLA, the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, and the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) centers around the country. She has studied in China, Taiwan, and Japan through study tours generously funded by the Freeman Foundation and US-Japan Foundation.

In 2013 Sarah was selected to travel to Japan as part of the Five College Center for East Asian Studies peace education program.  While in Fukuoka, she had the honor of meeting Sasaki Masahiro, the older brother of Sasaki Sadako who is remembered through the story of the thousand paper cranes. As Masahiro spoke of his sister’s life and her death, he said that “we need to open our hearts in order to achieve peace; we need to create hearts of sympathy and compassion in our children because this is the best way to communicate.”  He also stressed that “Sadako was not a victim; she was a young woman of peace.” Masahiro’s message and desire for peace reshaped Sarah’s understanding of human compassion, forgiveness, and love; which prompted Sarah to create an instructional unit, now available on iBooks, in which students examine monuments as well as visual and written testimonies of Hibakusha to consider how cities, survivors, and future generations remember difficult histories like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Next fall, Mrs. Campbell will extend this unit by asking students to create and run a school-wide assembly in which they explore “What Peace Means to Me.” Elgin Heinz funds will be instrumental in helping the next generation explore examples of peace; thereby bringing great honor to the spirit of those impacted by nuclear war.

Mrs. Campbell has also developed curriculum on modern Japanese literature which is nationally available through the Five Colleges, TEA, and NCTA web sites.  She has published strategies for teaching Korean literature in Education About Asia, and this past fall she was invited to share her expertise with fellow educators through a video demonstration entitled “Learning to ‘Read’ Japanese Paintings: Using Art as an Entry Point for Japanese Literature,” which is available through NCTA’s Class Apps video series of “best practices” in Asian studies.

Sarah notes, “The past twelve years have been filled with extraordinary East Asian experiences that would not have been possible without the commitment of foundations such as the Freeman and US-Japan Foundations and the guidance of program directors and colleagues. Receiving the Elgin Heinz award is not only a great honor but also one more opportunity for me to enrich the teaching of Japan in the small southeast Alaskan community where I attended and now teach high school.” The generous project funds will be used to to support an after-school Japanese Club for high school students, create a “What Peace Means to Me” assembly, purchase K-6 Japanese Children’s literature that will help teachers in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District integrate Japanese culture and language into their elementary curriculums, and finally, provide scholarships to help supplement student travel to Japan.

Funahashi web photo1

Ms. Naomi Funahashi
Humanities Category
Manager of the Reischauer Scholars Program
Stanford University
Stanford, CA


Naomi Funahashi was born in Tokyo to a Japanese father and a half-Japanese and half-American mother, and grew up moving between the United States and Japan. Naomi has resided in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2000, joining the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) at Stanford University in 2005. She currently serves as Manager of the Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP) and Teacher Professional Development for SPICE.

The RSP is an online course on Japan and U.S.-Japan relations for high school students in the United States. Named in honor of former Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer, the RSP annually selects 25-30 talented high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors from throughout the United States to engage in an intensive study of Japan. Each cohort participates in the online course from February to June, learning about Japanese history, literature, religion, art, politics, economics, and contemporary society, with a special focus on the U.S.-Japan relationship. As her students engage with diplomats, scholars, experts, and peers from across the United States and Japan, Naomi aims to facilitate the deepening of their cross-cultural understanding and broadening of their global perspectives.

In 2008, the Asia Society in New York CIty awarded the 2007 Goldman Sachs Foundation Media and Technology Prize to the Reischauer Scholars Program. Naomi has taught over 300 students in the RSP from 35 U.S. states and territories.

Naomi’s academic interests lie in global education, online pedagogy, teacher professional development, and curriculum design. She attended high school at the American School in Japan, and received her Bachelor of Arts in international relations from Brown University as a way to seek a deeper understanding of the complex connections between the countries of her heritage. Naomi received her teaching credential in secondary-level social science from San Francisco State University, and her Ed.M. in Global Studies in Education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining SPICE in 2005, she was a project coordinator at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.

She has authored or co-authored the following curriculum units for SPICE: Storytelling of Indigenous Peoples in the United States, Immigration to the United States, Along the Silk Road, Central Asia: Between Peril and Promise, and Sadako’s Paper Cranes and Lessons of Peace.

Naomi has presented teacher seminars nationally at Teachers College, Columbia University, the annual Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning Conference, the National Council for the Social Studies and California Council for the Social Studies annual conferences, and other venues. She has also presented teacher seminars internationally for the East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools in Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia, and for the European Council of International Schools in France, Portugal, and the Netherlands.