A Mittye P. Locke music teacher studies traditional instruments and innovative changes.
By MARY SPICUZZA
Published December 5, 2005
TRINITY - It was the focus on happiness that won her over completely.
Natalia Lebre Ritchie, a music teacher at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School in Elfers, recently returned from a three-week trip to Japan as a participant in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program.
Ritchie, 57, learned to play the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, and did some taiko drumming.
But she also had the chance to study the current education reform in Japan, which stresses giving children "room to grow" and encouraging a "zest for living."
So, as Ritchie prepares her "follow-on" plan, designed to share what she learned with her students, Pasco County teachers and the community, she wants to introduce some aspects of the reform.
"There's a stress on more free time for children, the emotional component," she said. "And health and physical strength for Japanese children under stress."
Ritchie, a veteran teacher with 36 years of experience, has traveled all around the world - including trips to Greece, South America, Canada, Egypt, Kenya and Australia. She studied in Portugal for three summers, speaks fluent Portuguese, and is a folklorist for Portuguese folk music.
She has had a longtime interest in Asian music but never had the chance to travel to Japan.
That is, until she attended a teachers' meeting and heard about the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, which is designed to give primary and secondary school educators in the United States the opportunity to travel to Japan in an effort to promote greater intercultural understanding between the two nations.
Ritchie was one of 200 educators who visited Japan in October as part of the program. She and the others arrived in Tokyo on Oct. 11. The teachers later broke into groups of 20 and traveled to various host cities, where they then visited various schools and stayed with Japanese families.
The program, sponsored by the Japanese government, was launched in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. government Fulbright Program. That program has helped more than 6,000 Japanese citizens to study in the United States on Fulbright fellowships for graduate education and research.
Ritchie stayed with a family in Kurume in the Fukuoka prefecture. The father, Kazuomi Baba, is a special education teacher and his wife, Tomie Baba, is a prekindergarten teacher.
She stayed with the couple, their two sons, Kiyofumi and Hirokazu, and their paternal grandparents, Toshiyuki and Yaeko.
"We used a lot of sign language and a lot of smiles," Ritchie said. "With the children I played games and little things like that."
She visited numerous schools and music classes as well as attended presentations about various topics, including the status of Japanese women, education reform in Japan, and Kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theater.
In her free time, she went to visit her daughter in the Air Force, Capt. Sacha Lebre Lima, who is stationed in Okinawa.
Ritchie is now working to prepare a unit for her students at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School. She hopes to include a chorus production, a show, a school concert featuring Japanese music and poems.
She also is working to develop cross-curriculum lessons that would include language arts, art, history and physical education.
Ritchie said that she hopes to share Japanese music as she works to help her students learn from the country's culture.
"Some of the things that they're looking at are having the children take cultural classes," she said. "And have a better quality of life."
--Mary Spicuzza covers education in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6241. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org