EDINBURG – The line of cars around 3:45 p.m. is long. Parents await just like most students for that 4 o'clock school bell to end not only the day, but the week. When the bell rings students begin to filter out to enjoy their two days of freedom before having to return on Monday morning.
A few students though, remain for an extra hour to learn the basics of Japanese from Roberto Ruiz, a McAllen native who started the club in 2008. Ruiz sat down with The Edinburg Review for a Q&A on all things Japanese Wildcats and the future of the after school club.
How have the Japanese Wildcats evolved since 2008?
When I started the Japanese Wildcats in May of 2008, it was a lunch club, and its only focus was the acquisition of basic Japanese. 10 years later, at its heart, it’s still a language club, but we have a few meetings where the focus is on Japanese anime.
In the decade you have been doing this, what have you learned as an educator in doing this after school program?
It’s funny, as a seventh grade Reading teacher, I’m very structured—procedures, expectations clearly made for every aspect of a routine or a lesson; however, I’m almost the opposite as a teacher for the Japanese Wildcats. It’s not to say that the students are running wild, but I learned early on, that for the most part, the students are there to learn Japanese; they have an appreciation for the language, but they’re also there to learn with some of their friends and have a bit of fun.
Have your expectations been met by the students year after year?
Every year’s set of students are different; I’ve had years where they learn how to read and write Hirangana (one of Japan’s “alphabets”) characters, and other years where it’s a lot of re-teaching of simpler concepts.
Have you had any help from the district, and what happens to the students and their Japanese lessons once they leave Memorial Middle School?
I’ve been very lucky that my administration and district (ECISD) has been very supportive; I’ve worked under two principals at Memorial Middle School, Mr. Carlos Guzman and Mr. Fermin Gonzalez, and they’ve both been very helpful. I’ve always done this as a volunteer, no extra stipend (and it’s been offered) because at the end of the day, this not about me—it’s about students doing their best to learn a little Japanese on a Friday afternoon. And these students, don’t give up on their Japanese; I’ve had some come back to visit, and their Japanese level has gone beyond what the club offers.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?
I’ve given up about 250 Fridays since I started the club ten years ago, and I hope to give up just as many in the next 10 years. The club was about half a year old when my son was born, and now he attends the club on occasion as a fourth grader (special permission). My goal for the next 10 years is to keep it as fun and fresh as it today.
If you could do one thing different in the next 10 years, what would it be?
I didn’t introduce the Japanese anime angle to the club until two years ago; I think merging the anime more with the Japanese acquisition is a definite; plus, student created manga or maybe a play in Japanese as an end-of-year production could be feasible with some dedication. Who knows, I’ve just fortune to have kept it going for 10 years.