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ASMSA, Lakeside School District introduces Japanese language program | Arts & Culture

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ASMSA, Lakeside School District introduces Japanese language program
ASMSA, Lakeside School District introduces Japanese language program

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts and the Lakeside School District are offering their students a unique opportunity — the ability to study Japanese from a native speaker.

Aozora Ishizaki is teaching Japanese language and culture to students at ASMSA as well as Lakeside High School and third-graders at Lakeside Intermediate School. The program is the only Japanese foreign language exchange program of its kind in Arkansas. ASMSA and Lakeside received a $30,000 grant from The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles to provide Japanese language instruction to the students.

Ishizaki is teaching a Japanese class at ASMSA three days per week. She teaches a class each day at Lakeside High School as well as working with third-graders at the intermediate school three afternoons a week.

Ishizaki was introduced to the community during a reception Tuesday at ASMSA that was hosted by ASMSA, Lakeside School District and the Hot Springs Sister City Foundation. Leaders in the local Sister City program worked with their counterparts in Hanamaki, Japan, Hot Springs’ Sister City, to assist in gathering applications from suitable candidates interested in teaching in Hot Springs.

The schools developed the partnership for the program after administrators from both schools made trips to Japan through various exchange programs. ASMSA Director Corey Alderdice and a group of ASMSA students visited Japan as part of the Kakehashi Project through the Japan Foundation in 2013. Alderdice also has had the opportunity to travel to Japan through the Hot Springs Sister City program.

Bruce Orr, assistant superintendent of the Lakeside district, traveled to Hanamaki two years ago through the Hot Springs Sister City Foundation Teacher Scholarship Program.

Both schools have hosted groups of Japanese students through the Sister City program and other cultural exchange programs.

The educators began to discuss how to build upon the current program. Alderdice coordinated the grant application through the Japan Foundation. The grant helps cover the first-year expenses of the program.

Alderdice said it was during the Kakehashi Project trip that ASMSA students demonstrated a passion for the pursuit of learning Japanese language and culture.  He said it was evident that the school should support that passion.

The school already had established the Global Languages and Shared Societies (GLASS) Initiative, which provided Mandarin Chinese language and culture instruction to ASMSA students as well as students in the Hot Springs School District and others across the state.

Adding Japanese instruction was a natural fit for the initiative, Alderdice said during the reception.

“The opportunity to explore a language and engage with another culture is both transformational and a reflective experience,” Alderdice said. “There’s a reason why the acronym for our effort spells GLASS. Panes of glass and windows allow us the opportunities to see beyond our own spaces and confines. They remind us that a broader world is but millimeters away.

“In the right light, they are reflective surfaces that allow us see ourselves and our culture while simultaneously considering others. This evening is but the beginning of what I hope is a great program and a great partnership.”

Shawn Cook, Lakeside superintendent, said the district has about 260 students enrolled in the language program.

“I’m very appreciative of the opportunity that our kids are getting,” he said. “At Lakeside, we are not about teaching to the test. We are about teaching to the kid.”

Several special guests also attended the reception, including Fumiaki Sasaki, president of the Hanamaki International Exchange Association, and Japanese Consul General Masami Kinefuchi, who travelled from Nashville, Tenn., to attend the event.

Kinefuchi said he was pleased to see the interest in his native language and culture by schools and students in the United States and Hot Springs. He said the program marks the growth of the relationship between Hanamaki and Hot Springs as well as between Japan and the United States.

“By opening the doors to a foreign language, we also open the doors to learning about other cultures and people,” Kinefuchi said. “Learning a language is not only about learning how to speak and write letters and words; it is about understanding a different culture.

“This is very important for the future leaders. … I’m confident that this one-of-a-kind program we are launching today will help develop young leaders in this community. The students who have just started learning Japanese, I’m very proud of you for choosing this course, and I assure that your experiences will give you great opportunities in the future to play various important roles in Japan-U.S. relations.”

The Japan Foundation is dedicated to carrying out comprehensive international cultural exchange programs throughout the world. Its various activities and information services create opportunities for people-to-people interactions. It was established in October 1972 with the objective of promoting international cultural exchange through a comprehensive range of programs around the world.

To view photos from Tuesday’s reception, visit http://asmsa.me/japanrecpt.