Hikone delegation comes to Ann Arbor for 32nd cultural exchange

Local group plans trip to sister city at month’s end

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

Logan and Angell elementary schools, all Ann Arbor middle schools and Ann Arbor Open @ Mack hosted visitors from Hikone, Japan last week, as a delegation visited the area for the 32nd time.

The delegation from Ann Arbor’s sister city came for a cultural visit and educational experience in The Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Logan Elementary School Principal Terra Webster, left, offers gifts to members of the visiting delegation from Hikone, Japan, Ann Arbor's sister city. The delegation, which includes two adults and 14 students, visited and stayed with local families while students attend school here last week.

The group spent time touring the schools last week and the 14 student visitors stayed with local host families and attended middle and high school classes. The group arrived on Oct. 4 and is returning to Japan today (Oct. 11).

Logan Elementary Principal Terra Webster was one of the school staff members to greet visitors and take them on a tour.

“What a treat for our Japanese-speaking students,” she said. “To see their culture not only represented but invited.”

Kayoko Baba of the Hikone International Friendship Association and Shoichi Hinatsu, a senior staff member with the Hikone Board of Education, toured and asked questions about teaching styles, how non-English speaking students learn and how schools in the United States pay for books and other educational materials.

Webster explained that Logan has 360 students enrolled – about 30 more than last year due to schools of choice – and that 25 different languages are spoken there. “We have a number of international fairs and festivals; we try to have two or three per year to have all of our cultures represented,” she told the visitors.

She said visitors and families “can experience the diversity of culture right here in our building.”

It was the first time a Japanese delegation had visited Logan.

Shoichi Hinatsu, a member of the senior staff with the Hikone Board of Education, visits with students in Ann Marie Borders' first-grade class at Logan Elementary. Hinatsu was a member of the delegation from Hikone visiting Ann Arbor as part of a cultural exchange.

Webster told the two that non-English speakers have their lessons in English, but they also have tutors and help from translators as needed. Non-English speaking families also get assistance, including help filling out needed paperwork and tutoring help when necessary. Logan does a Language Survey of families, which helps the school to better serve its population.

Baba and Hinatsu were surprised to hear that U.S. schools paid for textbooks and other materials – something that Japanese families must do on their own, they said. Webster also told the visitors about Logan’s Harold Logan Fund, which is used to assist students for other non-school items they might need including coats, boots and even eyeglasses.

The two communicated with staff and students through interpreter Mariko Mackie, except for a few Japanese students who were pleased to greet the visitors and speak in their native language.

Ann Arbor teachers volunteered their time to accompany the delegation on each of its visits; on this day at Logan, Dave Corsa, a teacher from Allen Elementary, was with the group.

Logan Elementary School art teacher Karen Metzger, left, works with students in her class, showing a classroom project to visiting dignitary Kayoko Baba of Hikone, Japan.

Corsa, who has traveled to Japan and hosted a number of Japanese visitors in his home, said he was pleased to assist. “I’m a great supporter of the Hikone Exchange program,” he said. “It’s incredible for the kids.”

During their time at Logan, the visitors saw a sampling of classrooms and student ages, including a visit to the first-grade class of Ann Marie Borders, who served as a project director for Ann Arbor students visiting Hikone last fall. Borders has incorporated Japanese culture into her class, including allowing students to dress in traditional Japanese clothing and teaching them to eat with chopsticks as well as using cultural lessons for writing assignments.

Larry Dishman, who coordinates the Hikone exchange program for The Ann Arbor Public Schools, said one of the final things outgoing Superintendent Todd Roberts did on his last day was to meet with the visiting Japanese project directors.

“It’s very much an honor and, for me, is a very touching thing,” Dishman said

Twenty-one Ann Arbor students were involved with hosting the Hikone students in their homes last week. Along with attending school with Ann Arbor students, the Hikone students visited Greenfield Village and joined in a number of home-stay activities with their host families and attended a Sunday night “Sayonara Party” at Conor O’Neill’s in downtown Ann Arbor.

In his first official act as Interim Superintendent, Robert Allen attended the Sunday night party on behalf of the district. “This exchange program is indeed a special partnership between our countries and our students learn so much from their exposure to another culture and customs,” Allen said. “I am proud of our student hosts and their families along with Larry Dishman and the Rec & Ed staff for their gracious hospitality to our visitors.”

Japanese students attended Skyline High School and Ann Arbor Open @ Mack as well as Scarlett, Slauson, Clague, Tappan and Forsythe middle schools while they were here.

On Oct. 31, a delegation of 12 Ann Arbor eighth- and ninth-grade students will travel to Japan on a goodwill mission during which the students will spend a week in Hikone, attending local schools and staying in the homes of junior high school students.  This will be the 17th delegation of Ann Arbor students to participate in the exchange program; the trip is typically undertaken every other year unless there is a reason to merit a special trip.

Last year, an Ann Arbor student delegation made a special visit to Hikone to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship.

The Hikone delegation visit and subsequent trip overseas dovetails into The Ann Arbor Public Schools initiative to incorporate World Language into its schools at a young age. Last year, third-graders began learning Spanish through an initiative with The University of Michigan; this year, the program was expanded to include both third- and fourth-graders and will be added at the fifth-grade level next year. Although the program has started with Spanish lessons, U-M officials said it is the hope that it will eventually include additional languages.

By 2016, all Michigan high school students must have two years of a world language, or equivalent education, in order to graduate.

Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090.

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