Press Release • September 18, 2023

NVN and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center launches two year Teacher Training Program with 3-day Institute at the Smithsonian

The National Veterans Network (NVN) and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) presented the Teacher Training Institute on the Japanese American World War II experience on August 9-11, 2023 in Washington D.C., sponsored by the Department of Interior, National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program.

17 elementary and middle school teachers came from six different states to meet in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. for a three-day intensive training. Educators came from as far as Oregon, and as close as Maryland & D.C. to gain historical knowledge on the Japanese American WWII incarceration and soldier experience, with a focus on learning what life was like in the camps for the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in American concentration camps during WWII.

The training kicked off with a jam-packed day of history, followed by a day of lesson modeling and thinking exercises led by Andrea Kim Neighbors, Head of Education, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and educators Jon Berg and Brian Mason applying different elementary and middle school lessons and activities. The educators finished the training with a full day of planning preparing themselves to teach this history in Spring 2024.

Many collaborators and experts joined the training, providing their expertise and access to primary source information and artifacts.

Dr. Theodore S. Gonzalves, Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, provided the larger historical context of how Asian Americans in their diversity have been included and excluded in this country since immigration to current times. Followed by an overview of Japanese American history through post-WWII presented by Lynn Yamasaki, Director of Education at the Japanese American National Museum. During this time, June Aochi Berk, a WWII Camp Speaker shared a moving story of being unjustly incarcerated as a child at the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. Christine Sato-Yamazaki, Executive Director of NVN presented the Nisei Soldier Congressional Gold Medal and the story of Sadao Munemori (100th). Jennifer Jones, Project Director/Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History helped to ground the presentations and emphasized the power of object-based storytelling by bringing rare WWII camp artifacts that the educators could view up close and personal. Finally, the educators ended their first day with a private tour given by board members Mark Nakagawa and Carolyn Hoover of the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism. The Memorial honors the Japanese Americans who lived in incarceration camps and those who were killed in action during World War II.

Following are some quotes our teachers had to share about what they learned, what they’re excited about, and why this history is important to teach:

Deena Nakata, Oregon, 4th & 5th grade: 

“I’m just so excited to be teaching the elementary lessons to my 4th and 5th graders because I think they’re universal lessons. I love the idea of the essential questions because it just goes to where do we all belong? Who are we as human beings and how do we connect with one another through history and stories and I think that lends to empathy and compassion…”

Mary McCarthy, Illinois, 8th grade:

“I’ve just learned so much. This has just been a wonderful-wonderful experience and I can’t wait to go back and talk about it with my IB teachers team…my IB coordinator is already on board and we’re going to be doing an interdisciplinary unit bringing these materials in with the whole 6th-8th grade team at my school.”  

Sahirah Sanders, Pennsylvania, 6th grade:

“…[as teachers] from our own educational backgrounds, how we didn’t learn these things and how it has shaped our country and to know these things and to be able to now teach it to your students so that they can be more informed as U.S. citizens and as citizens of the world…

Stephanie Feller, Utah, 6th grade:

“It’s just inspired me to tell more stories and to make sure that the teachers I work with are telling the full American story.”

Their commitment and enthusiasm were palpable throughout the training, and we’re excited to continue supporting them on this two-year journey as they prepare to the teach the lessons in their classrooms in 2024 and to train 5 additional teachers from their districts.

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