PAWTUCKET — The city's arts high school was on the itinerary of a visiting group of students from Japan this week as part of an effort to give them a snapshot of American culture.
Thirty-two 16- and 17-year-olds from the Happy Science Academy in Tochigi, Japan spent a day “shadowing” students from the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Visual and Performing Arts. The boarding school, affiliated with the Happy Science religious organization, houses students in grades 7 through 12.
According to Wikipedia, the Happy Science religion was founded by Ryuho Okawa in 1981 and was established as a religious organization in 1986. The Happy Science Academy school was created in 2010.
Hosai Salcamoto, one of the teachers accompanying the Japanese students, said the purpose of the trip was to expose them to what life is like in the United States. Besides experiencing a school day at JMW, the students were also going to spend time at Classical High School in Providence to see how their American counterparts learn.
Salcamoto said that later in the week, the teens were heading to Boston for a tour of Harvard University and popular attractions such as Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market. Then, it was on to New York City for a visit to the United Nations, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square.
Salcamoto said this was the first visit to the United States for most of the students, and that this trip offered “a great opportunity for us to widen our views.” He added, “These are the future leaders of the world. We want them to learn many things.”
JMW Principal John Haidemenos said that each Japanese student was paired with a JMW student and followed their partner through the regular class schedule. They visited classes in the core subjects as well as the arts, watched a video of the JMW cabaret, and were treated to a pizza party for lunch.
He said that Emily Marotti, a retired JMW teacher now working for PeopleLink, an organization which helped arrange the trip, had suggested that JMW might be an interesting school for the students to observe.
The Japanese students spoke little or limited English, and their JMW counterparts didn't speak their language, with one exception. Seventh grader Iris Haik delivered a special greeting in Japanese to the students and their teachers, much to the group's surprise, Haidemenos said.
Faith Norton, an 11th grade JMW student majoring in theater, was partnered with a 16-year-old male student from Japan. Although it was hard to communicate with the young man due to the language barrier, she said he “seemed to really like the theater class” that he took with her.
The Japanese students had also said that the top 40 music they were hearing on their U.S. visit and in some of the arts classes and videos at JMW was very similar to the type of music they listen to at home.