Fifth-grade teacher Stephanie Hull opened the doors to her Peterson Elementary School classroom last week to provide Japanese students a taste of school in America.
Hull and several other Klamath County School District teachers volunteered to offer lessons ranging from English, science and technology to agriculture, art, P.E. and math to the eight students from Kagoshima, a city in southern Japan.
The students – who ranged in age from 9 to 15 – go to a public school in Japan as well as a private English-language school owned by 1978 Henley High School graduate Ken Coulson and his wife, Yasuyo. Hull and Ken Coulson are longtime family friends, and Hull agreed to arrange four days of lesson plans and field trips for the group.
The Coulsons arranged the trip to broaden their students’ horizons as well as help them with their English.
“The students’ experiences are so narrow. I wanted to expand their minds and their hearts,” Yasuyo said. “They work very hard from kindergarten on. At 11, some are already burned out. So what is the meaning of learning? I want to stimulate them.”
The students met in the mornings in Hull’s classroom, spending a few hours on lessons before breaking for lunch and afternoon field trips.
Hull, Jolene Sale, a sixth-grader teacher at Peterson, and Jennifer Hawkins, KCSD’s elementary curriculum director, taught English lessons. Anna Monteil, a Ferguson teacher, taught coding; Peterson teachers Nicole Pryor and Tosha Nanni offered science and math, respectively. Peterson’s Jeannie Smith offered an art lesson and Zak Witt taught P.E.
Katie Feinauer from the program Ag in the Classroom offered an agriculture lesson, and EagleRidge students John and Nancy Mantell provided a session on teen life in the U.S.
Genea Campbell, a kindergarten teacher at Peterson, took the group on a nature walk along Spring Creek and then they toured the logging museum at Collier Memorial State Park. Other field trips included tours of Oregon Tech, Mazama High School, the Klamath County Museum, and EagleRidge High School. The group also has plans to visit Crater Lake National Park.
Yasuyo said the experience so far has inspired her students. After touring Oregon Tech, Misaki has her sights set on being an X-ray engineer. Another wants to go into nursing. All have high aspirations – teacher, doctor, professional soccer player, pastry chef, and running the family business.
The group is spending two weeks in the U.S. The first week was in Portland. Not surprisingly some of the highlights mentioned by students included food: Voodoo Doughnut in Portland and froyo at the Lighthouse Yogurt Co. in downtown Klamath Falls.
Fifteen-year-old Rinsei, who wants to be a doctor, said the school setting in the U.S. is very different from Japan, indicating the SMART boards and the interaction with teachers. He said the four days here also has helped his English fluency. “We learn English … but here it is so much more fun to learn,” he said.
Yasuyo said that in Japan, students learn to read and write English, but they don’t have a chance to use English in Japanese life. “That’s the key,” she said. “This experience is maybe worth more than a year (of English learning) in Japan.”
Rinsei grinned when asked about the highlight of his trip. On the way from Portland to Klamath Falls, the group stopped at Dairy Queen in Oakridge. Rinsei ordered in English without any help and was understood by the worker.
What did he order? “A chocolate sundae and an orange smoothie.”