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Genki Yoshimura, left, an eighth-grader from Yamauchi Junior High in Okinawa City, sits with his “sponsor” Billy Sherwood at Kadena Middle School during a science class Wednesday.

Genki Yoshimura, left, an eighth-grader from Yamauchi Junior High in Okinawa City, sits with his “sponsor” Billy Sherwood at Kadena Middle School during a science class Wednesday. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

Genki Yoshimura, left, an eighth-grader from Yamauchi Junior High in Okinawa City, sits with his “sponsor” Billy Sherwood at Kadena Middle School during a science class Wednesday.

Genki Yoshimura, left, an eighth-grader from Yamauchi Junior High in Okinawa City, sits with his “sponsor” Billy Sherwood at Kadena Middle School during a science class Wednesday. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

Yamauchi Junior High School eighth-grader Mami Matayoshi types on a computer at Kadena Middle School last week while Yamauchi principal Seitoku Kawasaki, left, and English teacher Kiyomi Miyagi look on.

Yamauchi Junior High School eighth-grader Mami Matayoshi types on a computer at Kadena Middle School last week while Yamauchi principal Seitoku Kawasaki, left, and English teacher Kiyomi Miyagi look on. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — While spring break usually means hanging out with friends or going to parks or beaches, this year it meant more school for 20 Okinawan eighth-graders.

The students from Yamauchi Junior High School in Okinawa City volunteered to spend their spring break at Kadena Middle School, where they mingled with American eighth-graders March 28 to April 1. The exchange was designed to allow the students to practice their English and learn about American culture.

Yamauchi principal Seitoku Kawasaki came up with the idea last summer when his school hosted American twins for two weeks. He said seeing the students nervous and wanting to go home in the morning but walking hand-in-hand with his students by afternoon gave him the idea.

When the base school accepted the plan, Kawasaki said, his students’ response was overwhelming.

“When we announced this program, many students applied,” he said.

“Those who were not selected were in tears with disappointment.”

Each Okinawan student was assigned a Kadena student sponsor with whom he or she spent the week, according to Mike McClain, Kadena Middle School assistant principal.

“I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback,” McClain said. “The teachers have said the students have been great … they’re always willing to help.”

One of the biggest problems for the exchange students, McClain said, was that the “English was a little too fast.”

While spending spring break at school isn’t some students’ idea of fun, the Yamauchi students said they were having a good time.

“Every day is fun, and I made many friends,” said Yurika Shinzato during a science class where she was sitting by her new American friend Charlene Luna. “At first I was nervous. Everything is in English and it is hard for me to catch up with the class, but I am getting used to it day by day.”

Shinzato said other interesting things at the school were lunch, where students get to choose what they eat; and math, where American students use methods that are different from what she’s been taught. But the answers come out the same, she said.

“I think American students are more mature than Japanese students,” said Kazushi Haebaru while sitting in a Japanese language class. “I like the American system very much because you can choose a class you want to take.

“I made many friends here … everyone is very friendly.”

Kadena eighth-grader Billy Sherwood said it’s been fun escorting Yamauchi student Genki Yoshimura around.

“I would give up my spring break [to visit their school],” Sherwood said. “I’d like to see how they do things different than me.”

Assistant Principal McClain said Kawasaki already has extended an invitation for American students to come to Yamauchi for a week in July.

“These kids live right outside our gate,” McClain said. “This is a chance for our students to make friends.”


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