By the Teachers at Orchard Prairie School
Spokane, Washington

from Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute Cultural Center News, March and April 1997

Japan, a Year of Discovery and New Understandings at Orchard Prairie School

Orchard Prairie School is a small school in the outskirts of Spokane. We have sixty students in grades kindergarten through seventh grade. During our strategic planning meeting with the community and school staff, many goals for our school were identified. Among these goals were two that led us to study the culture of Japan. One of these goals suggested that we study a different culture each year. In that study we emphasize learning a language and about specific cultures and countries where the language would be spoken. The second goal was to become more familiar with the Pacific Rim countries, as Spokane has strong economic ties there. Combining these two goals with the exceptional resources available at Mukogawa's Japanese Cultural Center (JCC), Japan seemed like a logical choice.

Five members of our staff began preparation by spending an afternoon at the JCC perusing the material available. We then outlined the activities and lessons we wanted to implement into the unit of study. Included in this unit were a wide range of integrated curriculum activities. We feel the scope and depth of our study was immensely greater due to the gracious assistance of the staff at the JCC. For example, cooking became much more authentic; during the study of kites, we used samples from the JCC and all our students' names were written in Japanese by the JCC staff. The JCC staff also came to Orchard Prairie to teach specific lessons. One of the highlights of our yearlong study was the celebration of Hina Matsuri at Mukogawa. Our students were excited about the Doll Festival when we first introduced it through a video tape from the JCC. They became even more excited when they realized that our school would be part of this year's celebration and be a home to one of the Japanese Friendship Dolls.

The enthusiasm to prepare for the festival was felt throughout the school. The seventh graders, with the help of a parent, made an American doll to be donated to the Friendship Doll Program and sent to Japan. What better way to instill a sense of pride and ownership than through such an experience?

The special day finally arrived and over half the school and all the faculty were off to Mukogawa. A sense of friendship, pride, honor and tradition radiated throughout the building. We were greeted by Mukogawa students and presented with Miss Tokushima pins. The program was thoughtful and interesting.

The most unexpected benefit for our students was the interaction at lunch. Mukogawa students escorted our students to lunch. At first it was awkward with different cultures and languages. But what fun to see the group start to talk, then giggle, and the hands move with wilder and wilder gestures. They took many pictures with their friends.

We were fortunate to have valuable resources at the JCC. The materials provided became the centerpiece of our study, which would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and generosity of the JCC.

Our yearlong study of Japan is coming to an end, but the experience and understanding will last a lifetime.

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