Story, photos and video by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Ann Arbor Public Schools today welcomed 14 students and two chaperones from Hikone, Japan during a reception at Scarlett Middle School.
This year marks the 40-year anniversary of this historic Hikone Exchange, which started with a teacher exchange between the sister cities of Hikone, Japan and Ann Arbor. It soon evolved into an educational and cultural exchange between junior high schools in Ann Arbor’s sister city of Hikone, Japan, and AAPS middle and K-8 schools.
“The idea of this program started four decades ago and is still going strong,” says Jennifer Nemecek, AAPS’ international education partnership coordinator. “We look forward to further strengthening our relationship with Hikone for the next 40 years and beyond.”
There are two parts of this exchange: On Monday, AAPS welcomed the 14 students and two teachers to Ann Arbor for nine days of fun and cultural programming.
AAPS will then send a delegation to Hikone from Sunday, November 4 through Friday, November 16. The 2018 Ann Arbor delegation will consist of fourteen student ambassadors and two project directors/teachers. AAPS student ambassadors will be in 8th or 9th grade at the time of travel to Japan. There are four 9th graders this year from Pioneer, Skyline and Community high school.
While in Hikone, the project directors and student ambassadors will each live with a Japanese family. Student ambassadors will attend school while project directors tour numerous schools and sites. Project directors and student ambassadors will also visit Hiroshima, Kyoto and other Japanese cities.
There is a significant time commitment for teachers and student ambassadors in the program, Nemecek says.
“We met weekly throughout the summer for Japanese language and culture classes,” she says. “Fundraising is an important part of the mission of the program as it engages our students with the Ann Arbor community in an effort to spread the word about this life-changing experience. The students have been bonding closely as a group and lately, they have been busy practicing songs and dance numbers for a performance in Japan.”
In her welcome address, Superintendent Jeanice Swift said she hopes the students enjoy every moment in Ann Arbor and make memories that will last a lifetime.
“We’re so proud we get to connect with you—community to community; classroom to classroom; student to student; and heart to heart,” she said.