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Students immerse themselves in Japanese culture, customs at Scott Depot camp

By Carlee Lammers, Staff Writer
CRAIG HUDSON | Putnam Review
Ikuyo Webb looks over Addison O’Dell’s shoulder as she and Luke Racer, left, craft Japanese fans during a cultural lesson at Japanese Immersion Camp at Scott Teays Elementary School.
CRAIG HUDSON | Putnam Review Koshin Fukuyoshi playfully fans Caleb O’Dell during a cultural lesson at Japanese Immersion Camp at Scott Teays Elementary in Teays Valley on June 28.
CRAIG HUDSON | Putnam Review Masahiro Morita makes a face as he is fanned by students Luke Addesa, Julia Carney, Brooklyn Jones and Abbi McCord during a cultural lesson at Japanese Immersion Camp June 28 at Scott Teays Elementary.
CRAIG HUDSON | Putnam Review Scraps of paper used to make Japanese fans are seen on a table during a cultural lesson at Japanese Immersion Camp at Scott Teays Elementary last week.

Alyssa Coleman and Abbi McCord can proudly read their names, tell you their favorite colors (blue and green) and identify certain body parts -- all in Japanese.

The rising third-graders, along with more than 50 other elementary-aged students, have experience using chopsticks, have tried Japanese cuisine and can listen to instructions in a language they weren’t familiar with just days ago.

Sixty rising kindergarten students through fifth grade participated in a Japanese Immersion Camp at Scott Teays Elementary School in Scott Depot June 26-30.

“Everything is spoken in Japanese, everything is done in Japanese,” said Helen Durgin, the camp supervisor. “They do songs, dance, art, music and language. They focus on those things every day.”

Putnam County Schools partnered with Toyota to fund the camp, which is in its second year.

The camp’s seven teachers are all Japanese students studying abroad at Marshall University.

Teachers incorporate technology into each lesson — and even the apps on the iPads are in Japanese.

“It’s exposure to a different culture, something that’s totally different from our alphabet system and our number system,” Durgin said. “They do better at younger ages. It’s easier to them.”

Iyuko Webb, a native of Kagawa, Japan, has been teaching Japanese in the United States for 12 years. Webb helped start a similar camp in Cabell County in 2012 and has helped lead efforts to start the camp in Putnam County.

“I love the kids’ reactions, especially to the food. One boy smelled the seaweed and the rice seasoning and made a face. I was like, ‘Just try it.’ And he did and was like ‘Oh, that’s good,’” Webb said.

Campers received a free lunch during camp, catered by Taste of Asia, a restaurant in Liberty Square near Hurricane. Campers sampled a variety of Japanese dishes — ranging from seaweed to sesame balls.

One day, campers were decorating their own Japanese fans, while listening to music in Japanese. Abbi and Alyssa were adding brightly colored pieces of paper to create a “mosaic” look to their paper fans.

Even though they are not fluent in the language, Webb said by the middle of the week, campers were able to understand what their teachers were telling them and could respond to directions.

And it’s true. Teachers instructed campers to move their desks to face a different side of the room Wednesday and each student instantly picked up his or her desk — without hesitation.

“Especially in this area, kids don’t get to experience a lot of diverse cultures. It’s a great opportunity for them to experience something different without leaving their area. You don’t need a passport, you don’t need to go to the airport, but we’ll come to teach you,” Webb said, smiling. “I feel like it’s my mission to be in West Virginia. I have a mission to do. I like to introduce my culture and language.”

Japanese Immersion Camp is part of Putnam County’s summer learning initiative. The county offers a variety of camps free of charge to students.

For more information on the summer learning opportunities available and to register, visit and follow the “Federal Programs” and “Summer Learning Opportunities” links.

Reach Carlee Lammers at, 304-348-1230 or follow @CarleeLammers on Twitter.


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