By fifth grade, the students at John Stanford International have been immersed in a foreign language (Spanish or Japanese) for six years; but for students in the Japanese track, the ultimate exercise in immersion comes during the summer of their last year, when they spend five days living with a host family in Japan. In order to make the trip happen, the school must raise money to cover the cost of airfare and lodging for the students, and the school is reaching out to the neighborhood to help with the fundraising. Heather Snavely, a John Stanford parent, provided us with some context around the fundraiser:
This Is No Field Trip. It’s How Global Citizens Are Made.
Last spring, in the aftermath of the Japan Tsunami, Takako Reckinger—or Takako-Sensei, as her students call her—and the parents of her fifth grade class at Seattle’s John Stanford International Elementary School (JSIS) had a difficult decision to make: To go or not to go to Japan.
It was not a simple question because this was not your average sightseeing trip. Since 2008, the fifth grade class at JSIS has culminated six years of language immersion with the ultimate test: A group trip to Japan. The kids stay with host families, attend a Japanese elementary school and experience first-hand the culture they’ve been studying for most of their young lives.
But Japan was on shaky ground—literally. And out of respect for the Japanese host families still recovering from the disaster—as well as concern for the safety of our own students—the trip could easily have been cancelled. After careful consideration that spanned an ocean, it was decided that the trip was more necessary than ever. And for two communities on either side of the Pacific, the world got a little bit smaller and the bond between cultures a little stronger.
The community bond between Seattle and Japan is an important one, and it continues to grow with each year. Though the specter of the Tsunami no longer looms, the hope to make our global neighborhood a little smaller is more powerful than ever.
This summer the students will tour Kyoto, Kobe and Nara. But, Takako-Sensei stresses “If you want to go to Japan for sightseeing, you can go anytime by yourself. The highlight of our trip is the experience of actually living in Japan” staying with host families and attending school in Seattle’s sister city Kobe.
For five days, the students will peel off from their chaperones, teachers and friends and live with Kobe families. In addition to experiencing daily home life, students will attend school with their host siblings—speaking only Japanese from the moment they get up.
It’s an experience the students look forward to from the time they enter the JSIS immersion program at the age of five or six. At the Seattle Public school, students learn math and science solely in Japanese and for half of the day are spoken to only in Japanese by native-speaking teachers.
Because it is not part of the official public school curriculum, nor is it mandatory for the students, the immersion trip to Japan receives no funding or support from the Seattle Public School system. It is fueled solely by fundraising and Takako-Sensei’s passion.
The trip itself costs approximately $100,000, which covers the costs of airfare and lodging for the students, Takako-Sensei and one additional teacher, as well as gifts for the host community and families. This does not include the expense of 12 invaluable chaperones, who must pay their own way.
Thus far, families have raised enough money to pay for the two teachers and some host family gifts. The hope is to raise enough money to also lighten the financial burden for the students.
Takako-Sensei has already donated limitless energy and time. She spends hundreds of uncompensated hours finding a willing Japanese community with enough host families for each student, coordinating with the principal of the school, mobilizing parent volunteers and chaperones, and plotting the cultural and historic stops the group will make along the way.
One need only look to past JSIS students and parents to see the value of the trip. Says one student: “Those five days I spent with my host family were probably the best five days a girl could ever ask for! Japanese was all I spoke, and I had become very fluent. My host mother described me as an additional daughter.”
Just as powerful as the cultural connection is the lasting impact parents see in their own kids. “My daughter gained a lot of poise with her Japanese but also gained a lot of personal confidence being away from her family.”
Your donation will not only help this year’s class make the voyage across the Pacific, but also make a lasting impact on the lives of families in these two communities.
Says Takako-Sensei of the trip: “I am hoping to build a life-long exchange between the families across the ocean.”
That Life-Long Exchange Begins with Your Donation. Simply visit www.indiegogo.com/jsis2japan