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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Going to Yokosuka Naval Base for professional development is a whole lot cheaper than flying 26 Japanese people to the United States, says Hiroyasu Yamada.

That’s why the Ship Repair Facility engineer and special education advocate coordinated a visit Wednesday to The Sullivans Elementary School for teachers from Yokohama National University’s Mental Handicapped School and social skill leaders from a local YMCA.

“Japan is at a turning point with special education,” Yamada said. “We are not as advanced as American schools. But we have a good model right here in Yokosuka where teachers can learn teaching style and about special education materials.”

Japan’s special-education classrooms are larger — sometimes 40 to a class — while American classes are set up in smaller groups, he said. A decade ago, Japanese parents didn’t decide where their child could go to school, he added; that was a function of the Japan Education Office. Until recently, there were no educational provisions for mildly disabled children, he said.

“There are new laws and regulations now,” Yamada said.

But the exchange works both ways, said Sullivans speech pathologist Vicky Araki. Americans also need to learn from their Japanese peers.

“We’re getting more and more Japanese parents and children in our special education classrooms here,” Araki said. “We need to know and understand what the Japanese system is like.”

In the end, sharing knowledge can only benefit the children, Sullivans teacher Sandra Shattuck said.

“Whether it’s American or Japanese, we want to improve the system for the kids.”

In 2007, the American teachers plan to visit the university in Yokohama, she added.

“Everyone was so excited about this year,” Shattuck said. “This is just the beginning for us.”

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