Astoria educator receives Fulbright Memorial ScholarshipHer students' artwork is displayed around the classroom: electrical-tape people, American folk Mallard ducks and multi-colored glass votives.
Astoria Middle School teacher Rebecca Sentgeorge points to a wall of paper Molas and explains that this Cuna Indian artwork employs concentric rings and positive and negative space.
Art teachers like Sentgeorge rely on their own innovation and that of other art teachers to come up with projects and curriculum to teach art concepts.
Which is why her excitement is like 277 radiant yellow paint as she talks about an upcoming trip to Japan.
"I really don't know much about Asian art," Sentgeorge says. "(I'm excited) not just to be exposed to their culture, but to take pictures and see what kind of art they do there."
Sentgeorge is one of a select group of U.S. teachers chosen for a three-week study program in Japan.
It's part of the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, sponsored by the government of Japan. Established in 1996 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright Program, a U.S. government year-long exchange project, the Memorial Fund is a fully-funded, short-term study program.
Two teachers are chosen from each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., each year to travel to Japan to visit schools, cultural sites and industrial facilities, and to spend a week in a Japanese family's home.
"She'll be able to go over there and pick up some really amazing things to do with the kids," said Colleen Tilley, who wrote Sent-
george a recommendation. "She's an incredible artist in her own right and what she gets kids to do is amazing."
To apply for the program, Sentgeorge, who has 27 years of teaching experience, wrote three essays including one on the Astoria community. Another covered her history and ties to the area, and the third detailed how she plans on using the new cultural knowledge.
"It's just a gift from the people of Japan," she says. "It's an honor."
Sentgeorge doesn't know what to expect, but is doing plenty of research ahead of time.
She learned from another Fulbright Memorial Scholar that she should bring a pair of slippers. Many of the older schools require individuals to remove their shoes inside the building.
She has also heard that it is common for visitors to bring gifts to the schools they tour, and that Japanese families have a tradition of bringing small items over to each other's homes.
Right now she's thinking of bringing books on Oregon, Astoria and Lewis & Clark to the schools, and local food, such as smoked salmon, for the family with which she stays.
But Sentgeorge is also preparing for the unexpected as well.
"I might get there and fall in love with something I had no idea about," she said. "Another teacher loved going down to the fish market."
Colleen Keenan, a sixth-grade teacher at Astor Elementary, participated in the same program in 1997.
"For me living here and always seeing the ships and knowing they're going to Japan and to be able to go there was wonderful."
If there's one worry, it's the language barrier. "I have until October," Sentgeorge says, explaining that she wants to learn at least a few phrases.
But she knows that she can always rely on an earlier trick she used while traveling in Spain - a method particularly suited to an artist.
When she was ordering a drink, for example orange juice, she drew a picture of an orange tree with an arrow to a glass: "orange juice!"
Sentgeorge says she is curious to discover how they teach art in Japan, topically, by technique or using another method. She is also on a quest to figure out where the Japanese students she's had her classroom get their innate sense of design.
"I'd like to find out if it occurs from the way they're taught, or because of their written language, how they got their aesthetic awareness," she says.
But it's when Sentgeorge returns after her whirl-wind visit that the real work will begin. She has plans to incorporate new techniques into her curriculum, share a pictorial art journal of her experiences, talk about her experiences with her 180 students, and put together a showing of paintings and prints based on her trip.
"When you come back you're supposed to spread knowledge and understanding throughout the community," she says.
But for now, Sentgeorge says, "I'm just kind of excited and waiting."