Ripley teacher expands cultural knowledge in classroom

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

RIPLEY – For her students who haven’t yet experienced world travel first-hand, Melody Bigham uses her curriculum to bring the world to them.
The Ripley High School Family and Consumer Science teacher uses her nutrition and wellness class to introduce the students to other countries and peoples.
“Our school believes in global education and exposing our students to different cultures,” she said.
In the years since Toyota has become a part of Northeast Mississippi the company has sought to introduce Mississippians to Japanese business culture, social culture and food culture.
Not only do many local residents work at the Toyota manufacturing plant, but also at other companies that are part of the company’s manufacturing stream.
Since those companies employ local people and bring managers and their families from Japan to Mississippi, it is important that everyone gain more understanding of each other as the two cultures interact.
“Our curriculum was revised in 2007, and this semester we had a Japanese culture class to demonstration of proper social etiquette with table settings, table service and table manners,” Bigham said.
The students in grades nine-12 enjoyed green tea and sweets with presenter Naomi Yamakawa, the coordinator of Japanese Outreach Programs and Continuing Education at the University of Mississippi.
“The students really liked it and want her to come back,” Bigham said. “They were asking a lot of questions and she had a lot of visuals.”
The demonstration was not a complete or formal tea ceremony, Bigham said, which has many steps and formal procedures from beginning to end. But it was enough to spur the interest of the students.
“I’m trying to bring some varieties of cultures every semester,” she said. “I’d like to keep having Japanese exposure every semester.”
Thus far Bigham has brought Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe into the classroom through foodways.
“We had a student of Mexican heritage and she brought us a feast,” Bigham said.
In addition to Yamakawa’s role in Japanese outreach, she is associate principal and coordinator at the North Mississippi Japanese Supplementary School at the University of Mississippi. The school is held for six hours on Saturdays and teaches Japanese language, math and social students to students from Japan to help them maintain their Japanese identity while living in the United States. The program uses Japanese textbooks and curriculum to keep them current for their transition back to Japan.
The Japan-America Society of Mississippi also offers periodic Japanese cultural enrichment programs in communities across north Mississippi.
“To see the light bulb go off for these students who have never been exposed to a lot of cultures, especially Asian culture, is really rewarding for me,” Bigham said. “I want them to experience travel for themselves to understand how it can change your life forever.”
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com