Instead of the familiar “hi”, “hi” or “hello”, fifth grade students at Tierra Bonita Elementary School greet each other by saying “konnichiwa”.
The Japanese greeting is one of many words and phases that students at two Poway Unified elementary schools learn in a new Japanese language curriculum.
The program, which began about a month ago at Tierra Bonita and Del Sur elementary schools, is made possible by a $ 60,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, a nonprofit that promotes international awareness and mutual understanding through cultural exchanges, programs and grants.
Teaching young people a foreign language is just one of the ways the district is working to prepare students for the future of the global economy, said Eddie Park, director of global languages and innovative programs at Poway Unified.
“They learn more than the language, they learn the world culture,” Park said. “We empower world-class learners and prepare our future global citizens. “
Miki Kihara, a teacher at Tierra Bonita, said she has already seen students’ confidence grow with their new skills. Kihara teaches 15 different 30-minute Japanese lessons every week at Tierra Bonita for all students in the school.
A second generation Japanese American, Kihara was born and raised in Japan. She previously taught at Kokugo Gakuen, a non-profit Japanese language school in Poway.
“The program gives students the confidence to be themselves and they learn to respect themselves and others,” she said.
For the youngest, learning is interesting and productive.
“I like it. It’s fun and we learn new things,” said Miya Mau, 10, a fifth-grader at Tierra Bonita. “We learned how to make a toy with string. A lot. many families there have no money, so they can make toys for their children.
Miya said she couldn’t wait to make more toys.
For Carter Bennett, 10, also at Tierra Bonita, in fifth grade, learning the language is the most interesting part of the program.
“I love the words themselves and I love to read; I can’t wait to learn more, ”Carter said.
He said he wanted to go to Tokyo someday.
“It looks so cool with the lights shining above the big city and all the tech and stuff,” he said.
Parks said it was essential that parents, teachers and students were all engaged and that every child in the school participated in the program.
“It allows our children to thrive and realize their full potential,” he said.
Learning a new language and culture alongside his friends makes things even more fun for 11-year-old Reese Davidson, also in fifth grade with Tierra Bonita.
“I can live more, because my friends also share their experiences,” she said.
Like Miya, she can’t wait to make more toys and learn more about the differences between the two countries’ favorite foods.
Because Del Sur does not yet have an accredited teacher for the program, their classes are taught after school. Capped at 25 students per year, classes are available for the third, fourth and fifth years. Classes are held twice a week for one hour each.
Students who cannot attend classes in person can still view classes, as all resources are available on the school website.
“We’re trying to focus not only on writing the language, but mixing it with words and phases and why that’s so important,” said Eric Takeshita, principal of Del Sur Elementary. “For example, students can learn about a special day or event in Japan, or the clothes or food and the cultural basis behind them. “
He said the students love the program and their parents support it as well.
“Parents tell me their kids come home from school and share phrases and things they’ve learned, and parents love that students love it,” Takeshita said, adding that he was planning to have a accredited teacher for the Del Sur program by next year.
Michele Tsutagawa-Ward, principal of Tierra Bonita, said her students are also enjoying the new classes.
“Children soak up it. They pass by me and ask questions, they dive into it, they want to travel. The program brings down the walls, ”said Tsutagawa-Ward, a first-generation Japanese American.
She said she believed each of the students enjoyed the opportunity to see something bigger than their own community.
“When students are open-minded, not only socially but in terms of learning, they feel confident to try new things, take risks and more,” said Tsutagawa-Ward. “There are no negative points; parents seem to understand the importance of the program and everyone wins.
Parks would like the program to be available to students in Kindergarten through the last year of high school.
“By offering this first of its kind program, we are making history at Poway,” he said.
Meanwhile, Takeshita attends after-school Japanese lessons himself, much to the delight of the students at Del Sur.
“Being a third generation Japanese American, my parents wanted me to assimilate into American culture,” he said. “I have never been to Japan and I have never learned to speak Japanese other than a few words to my grandparents.
“I have the chance to learn with my students and it’s fantastic. “