FAIRMONT — Ashley Berdeau often travels with her art and journalism students at Fairmont High School. Last fall, her work at the school earned her the title of the Teacher of the Year for the Public Schools of Robeson County and the journey of a lifetime.
She was awarded a two-week trip to Japan through the Worldview program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This summer, the St. Pauls High School graduate joined 29 other educators from across North Carolina who traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun.
“Everyone was very welcoming. Everywhere we went, the Japanese people wanted to take photos with Americans,” Berdeau said. “Children would be on field trips and they would have sets of questions to ask you such as where you are from and do you like Disney.”
Berdeau traveled to Tokyo during the first week of her trip and to Kyoto during the second. She said every part of the trip was exciting, but a stop in Hiroshima was especially moving.
“My grandfather is a World War II vet. He was based on a naval ship off Japan where the atomic bomb was dropped,” Berdeau said. “We spoke to a survivor who was 8 years old at the time and is now 77. She lost her father, brothers and family members to radiation. People didn’t want to marry into those families for fear of the radiation affecting future generations.”
A little bit of Fairmont High School joined her for the journey in the form of paper cranes. Each person in the UNC group brought 35 paper cranes to Japan, but the students at Fairmont High made 1,000 cranes by hand after Berdeau told her students the story of a little girl who died from the radiation.
“After the atomic bomb went off, a lot of children were either killed or suffered from radiation. There was a story about one victim, named Saduka, who believed that for every 1,000 paper cranes you made, you could make a wish to be healed,” she said. “Children from around the world began to make paper cranes in honor of her and other children who were affected from the bombing.”
Berdeau took more than 1,000 paper cranes to the Hiroshima Children’s Memorial. She said each day people donate cranes, which are temporarily hung in a display case before being recycled into T-shirts and paper products that are sold to keep the memorial open.
“It was extremely touching that the story meant so much to my students,” Berdeau said. “I told them I had to make 35. They went on YouTube and learned how to make them. The students packed them up in zip lock bags for me to carry on the plane.”
The World View trip allows educators to see other areas of the world, other education systems and encourages them to make their classroom into a global classroom.
Berdeau said she was very interested in learning watercolor techniques during the trip, but she learned so much more.
“It was interesting that they take a morals class in Japan. Everyone rides a bike and no one locks them because no one steals. The classes there don’t have smart boards and computers, but many use chalkboards. I told them it was nice to see less technology in the classroom. The educators there said they have all of the technology at home and they don’t need it inside the classroom,” Berdeau said. “They emphasized that students need to learn reading, writing, math and how to become good citizens. So they teach them morals and to be a good person.”