Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Higher Achievement Program

I love sharing taiko. In particular, I love sharing taiko with kids who most likely otherwise would have little or no connection to Japanese culture. All it takes is one experience to get a child interested in thinking about other parts of the world, which can bring about an open mind and an awareness of the endless possibilities for their future.

I had the privilege the last few months of working with the dedicated scholars at the Higher Achievement Program, a non-profit located in Washington DC dedicated to developing "academic skills, behaviors, and attitudes in academically motivated and under-served middle school children." On November 4, 2009 First Lady Michelle Obama presented Higher Achievement with the Coming Up Taller Award, the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school time organizations providing humanities and arts programming to children with great potential but limited outlets for creative expression.

While most of the program is academic-focused, I was one of two elective teachers at Ward 6 brought in to work with the scholars 3 times a week. While it was just a short time we had together, it was so amazing to watch their thirst for information on taiko, Japan, and Japanese just grow and grow. My students took our time together seriously (as you can see on their faces in the video :) ), and strove to do well. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity with them and so very proud of their performance.

The show started with a skit (written by Victoria Der), but you can't really hear that part clearly. I suggest you begin the video at about 1:54 and Matsuri will start soon after.


  1. This is cool! Kids are like little information sponges and giving them the opportunity to learn and to have fun is just about the coolest thing you can do.
    (As an incorrigible information junkie myself, I really look forward to the possibility of reading your thesis.)

  2. Thanks--and thanks for reading! I'll think about posting thoughts about my research here... Though it may just be about the topic-formulation process. I'm looking forward to getting started!

  3. Hi Carrie, I've started a similar program here in Atlanta, GA. Can you please email me and let me know how the drums in this video are made? I have also seen directions on the web for making taiko out of old tires. My email is tvojta(at)gmail.com. Thank you!

  4. Hi combaterzero! I'll respond here so that others who may want the information can use it as well:

    I purchased an 18-Gallon "Rope tub" ($7 from Target) and 2 rolls of 1.88 in. X 1000 in. Mailing tape ($2.80 at CVS) for each drum to be made. The students in my class worked in pairs to make 1 drum.

    First, have them lay a piece of tape long enough to bisect the opening of the tub in half, plus enough extra to fold over the lip at each end. Then, place another piece of tape perpendicular to the 1st piece.

    Continue in this fashion so that each piece of tape laid runs through the center of what will be the head, and you're always placing the new piece by dividing the existing space in half. It gets a bit tricky, once there's no visible space left, to make sure the tape is laid evenly, but I left it up to my students to create their own plan for this.

    By the end, each tub's opening should be covered completely with 2 rolls of tape and the most dense area will be the center. You can use 1 roll instead, but you will end up having to patch up holes by the 1st or 2nd use.

    Depending on the height/age of the kids you're working with, you may need to find some sort of platform for the drums to go on to create an ideal height.

    Simple and cheap! Hope it works for you and let me know if you need any clarification.