Story and photos by Steve Parker
Yokosuka, Japan – The Sullivans School on board Commander Fleet Activates (FLEACT), Yokosuka in Yokosuka hosted a Special Education Professional Exchange, Feb. 26. The annual event has happened since 2006 and has afforded quite a unique opportunity to exchange information about special education programs for both American educators at the Sullivans School and local Japanese special education teachers and students. This opportunity was initiated by Hiroyasu Yamada, an equipment specialist at Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC). Yamada has been an active proponent of Japanese special education as he himself is a parent of children with special needs. This yearly exchange opportunity is possible because of Yamada’s initiative to be the liaison between the special education department of the Sullivans School and local special educators. When it is the Sullivans teachers’ turn to visit the Japanese schools, he organizes the trip, takes leave, guides and translates for the teachers.
The visitors spent the morning visiting classrooms and programs at the Sullivans School, observing firsthand the different models for special education instruction including the inclusion model. Visitors were also shown other support activity programs that are part of the general education system including English as a Second Language (ESL) Math Support Services (MSS), Language Support Services (LSS), the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program and general education classrooms. The participants spent their afternoon in a question and answer session with Sullivans administration and special educators.
This year, Junichi Tamura, a Professor at Teikyo University, brought his university students, along with other local special education teachers. Teikyo University is a prestigious private university headquartered in the Itabashi ward of Tokyo, Japan. Tamura expressed gratitude at the opportunity to observe the application of these programs without the expense of an overseas trip. Miko Ito, one of the students from Teikyo University was very excited about the opportunity. Ito said, “We are very glad to see your school. It is very important for us to see your methods of teaching first hand and the warm-hearted way your students and teachers welcomed us all into your classrooms was very touching. We appreciate all of your efforts on our behalf.”
Victoria Araki, Sullivans School Speech Language Pathologist, organized the event for the Sullivans. She said, “We look forward to learning about the special education programs of our host country. Some of our students transfer from Japanese schools and sometimes, if a family loses sponsorship, they must consider sending their children to Japanese schools and receiving special education services that are quite different from our school system. We also need to be familiar with the customs of the local community to embrace diversity in our school.”
One Sullivans teacher enjoyed a serendipitous and unplanned reunion during the visit. Seiko Nemoto, now a host nation teacher at the Sullivans was a high school student years ago at Tennessee Meiji Gakuin when she first met her teacher, Kei Mazaki. Tennessee Meiji Gakuin is a private Japanese high school in Sweetwater, Tennessee. Imagine her surprise when she saw her former high school teacher from Tennessee walking the halls of her new elementary school in Yokosuka, Japan! Mazaki, who is now an adviser for the Young Men’s Christian Association, (YMCA) Yokohama recognized his former student immediately. “He was my high school teacher in Tennessee,” Nemoto said. The two had lost touch over the years and were delighted to find each other and reminisce about nostalgic high school memories.