Third-graders welcome Okinawans into Kadena classroom for study, play time
January 17, 2005
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Okinawan elementary school students experienced American school life last week during a cultural exchange at the base’s Bob Hope Primary School.
About 80 third-graders from Kitatama Elementary School in Chatan who have been studying English with volunteer teachers from the base visited the Department of Defense school on Thursday.
They were welcomed by 160 American third-graders who sang a Japanese song, “Mount Fuji,” in Japanese and English. The students were divided into 10 groups to participate in classroom activities. Moving from one classroom to another, they read books, played games and worked on computers together.
Kitatama is one of several Okinawan schools emphasizing early English education. Japan’s Education Ministry requires English lessons in middle school. However, many schools have started teaching students English in elementary school.
Some Okinawa schools rely on native English-speaking assistant language teachers, many of them volunteers from the military community on Okinawa.
“Volunteer teachers from Kadena Air Base visit our school every week to teach English in the third- and fourth-grade classes,” said Kitatama Principal Mitsue Dendo.
“Such an event as this is a very precious opportunity for students to learn communication skills in English,” she said of the Bob Hope visit. “All the students were anxiously waiting for today.”
The event is mutually beneficial, said Al Barney, assistant principal of Bob Hope Primary School.
“It is also good for American students,” Barney said. “Some kids never get to interact with Japanese children because they live on base. They will get to do this by working side by side with the Japanese students.”
In one classroom, the American students showed the Japanese guests their computers, books and games. Zack Henry showed Miki Kamiunten how to play a computer game.
In another corner of the room, Tyler Kei Matayoshi joined Americans Colton Reeves and Tyler Bonnell in reading a book on a couch.
“I used to have Japanese neighbors when we were living off base,” Taylor Fernandez said while playing dominoes with Aoi Oshiro.
Aoi said she was amazed to find out that there were so many games and playthings in a classroom. “It is so much fun,” she said.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Laney, a volunteer at Kitatama for the past two years, said he loved working with the Okinawan elementary students. “We love to see students’ bright faces and smiles when they learn English,” Laney said. He said that he wanted the Japanese students to enjoy the atmosphere of an American school.
“In the Japanese schools, they eat lunch in the classroom and they can’t eat snack at all,” he said as Riki Arakaki walked out of the classroom to have a cookie in a hallway. “It’s a whole lot different here,” Riki said. “I was surprised because we don’t have to take off shoes in a classroom.”