Asahi, 31 July, 2011

BY EMI TADAMA

SUKAGAWA, Fukushima Prefecture–Rather than being on the receiving end, a group of students with special needs at a school here are giving something back to their community–a rare opportunity at schools like theirs.

The students are in a reading club at the Fukushima Prefectural Sukagawa Yogo School (school for children with disabilities). They meet twice a week to practice reading aloud to hone their language skills.

They also go out to other schools and other places to read to people in the community.

The club is about to take part in the 35th All Japan High School Cultural Festival, which is being held in Fukushima Prefecture next month. They will read “Neko no Oishasan” (Cat doctor) and other stories to an audience of students at the nationwide gathering on Aug. 5.

The club’s name is “Mi Corazon,” Spanish for “my heart.” At present, there are 10 members, all senior high students with mental or physical disabilities.

They visit nearby nursery schools, museums and other places about 50 times a year to read to eager audiences.

After the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, they read stories at evacuation centers in Koriyama, also in Fukushima Prefecture.

Before beginning, a member typically warms up the young audience members with questions such as, “Do you like animals? Animals that you like may appear in this book.”

The group also entertains people with dances and puppet shows to illustrate the stories they read.

The club was launched four years ago when teacher Kaoru Kobayashi, 51, was transferred to their school after teaching at a regular high school.

“Students of this (Sukagawa Yogo) school have few opportunities to meet students from other schools. I thought, why not let them do what they can (for others), instead of always just being recipients of other people’s activities?” Kobayashi said.

Sayaka Nemoto, 18, is the club’s leader. She says the club’s activities are worth doing.

“In ordinary days, we practice reading in classrooms where no other people are listening. But when we visit other places, we receive lots of reaction from the children. They tell us, ‘thank you,’ ” she said.

By reading to other people, several of the students have become more mentally stable and calm. Some graduates have gone on to jobs in child and nursing care.

The March 11 earthquake left about half of their school buildings unusable.

However, the school received about 600 picture books donated from throughout the country. The club is planning to read those books to others in the coming years.