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A group of students from Soka Senior High School in Tokyo won the English Paper Champion Prize this week for their English-language newspaper featuring articles on world peace, human rights and nuclear disarmament.

The first installment of the All Japan Junior and Senior High School English Newspaper Contest, held Sunday in Tokyo, saw 10 high schools and two cram schools take part, with each presenting four-page tabloid papers they produced.

Under the Student Times Project, jointly run by The Japan Times and Global Education Information Center (GEIC), the participating students created the newspapers themselves — from coming up with story ideas to interviewing, writing and layout.

At the awards ceremony held in Tokyo, students spoke about the difficulties of conveying their message in English and having balanced and objective views when writing articles.

But such experiences of thinking thoroughly about the best way to present and tell stories not only deepened their understanding of the English language but also about media literacy, they said.

“It was the first time for me to conduct street interviews, and I also did that in the U.S., in English. It was tough, but the experience definitely gave me more confidence,” Sakura Mori, a second-year student at Soka Senior High School, said after receiving the champion award.

“Through the process of making the newspaper, I learned about what kind of words to use to describe an event and how a story was arranged could affect the impressions readers get from it,” fellow second-year student Masami Shibata said. “That made me really think of ways to convey a story to readers objectively.”

A total of 16 students at the school participated in the project, conducting interviews in Tokyo as well as in Okinawa and in California last summer to learn local high-school and university students’ views on war and human rights issues.

Titled Soka Gakuen Times, articles ranged from the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 in the last phase of World War II to comparisons of views of students from the three cities on human rights, including refugees and sexual minorities.

“I’m happy to receive the award . . . I want other high school students to read our paper to get to know what their peers are thinking,” said Ami Hiraoka, a second-year student at Soka.

Kensaku Yoshida, head of the 10-member jury and a distinguished professor at the Center for Language Education and Research at Sophia University, praised Soka’s newspaper, saying he was surprised to learn how extensively high school students were thinking about global issues.

“It was great to see them write about global issues from the perspectives of high school students. Also, they conducted interviews themselves in Okinawa and elsewhere and put those first-hand experiences into decent writing,” said Yoshida, who is also the head of the GEIC.

The runner-up prize went to Shonan Shirayuri Gakuen Junior and Senior High School in Kanagawa Prefecture. Its newspaper featured articles on global educational disparities, the school’s English debate competition and its annual sports event.

Meanwhile, Ochanomizu University Senior High School won the Foreign Media Prize — chosen by members of the jury from The New York Times, and Yokohama Futaba Junior and Senior High School took home the Regional Revitalization Prize.

Looking back at the process of making the paper, Yokohama Futaba first-year student Hitomi Takagi said it was hard as nobody at the school had previously created an English-language newspaper.

“I especially struggled with laying out the pages. There were times when I thought of quitting,” Takagi said. “But when I heard cheers from my classmates when they saw the final product, I was so glad to have participated in the project.”

Hideaki Kogo, one of the jurors and a senior specialist for curriculum at the education ministry, said the experience of making an English-language newspaper is a great example of the so-called active learning the ministry has been pushing.

“All the students actively participated in the process of learning. They went outside their classrooms to learn, speak to people, and cooperate with their classmates,” Kogo said. “Such extracurricular experiences are important for nurturing desired talents for the future.”

Other participating schools were Kokugakuin Kugayama Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Kyoritsu Girls’ Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo, Senior High School at Otsuka, University of Tsukuba in Tokyo, Kagoshima Junshin Girls’ High School, Sakaehigashi Junior and Senior High School in Saitama Prefecture and Seiwa Gakuin Junior and Senior High School in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Kobetsushido Q, a cram school in Hokkaido, and Eishinkan Co., a cram school in Fukuoka Prefecture, also participated in the event.

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