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Mingling With Dignitaries

Students from Japanese Immersion program greet Prime Minister at the White House.

Last week, as heavy rain poured down endlessly on Virginia, a group of students and teachers from Great Falls Elementary School watched and waited, hoping upon hope that the wet weather would stop by Thursday.

"The whole week we were so nervous, wondering, is there going to be a ceremony? Are we going to be able to go?" said Lili Kennington, a teacher in the Japanese Immersion program at Great Falls Elementary.

Fortunately, the sun showed just in time for a much anticipated event. On June 29, 16 fourth and fifth grade students from Great Falls Elementary School's Japanese Immersion program, joined President George W. Bush and other dignitaries in greeting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the White House lawn. The Japanese Embassy invited the students to the event just one week before it took place.

"None of us knew exactly how wonderful this opportunity was going to be," said Kennington. "We knew the invitation was really significant, but to actually be on the White House lawn, and see such a beautiful event was incredible."

The Prime Minister's visit marked his final trip to the United States, as his 5-year tenure will conclude this fall. Japanese Immersion students from Fox Mill and Floris Elementary Schools in Herndon, also attended the event.

"I thought it was really cool that we even got invited to it, and that we could hear the Prime Minister and the President speaking in person," said Caitlin Rose, 10, and a rising sixth grader at Great Falls Elementary. "My favorite thing was seeing the President and the Prime Minister and Laura Bush, and actually being there."

Jacqueline Sammarco, 11, a rising sixth grader, also attended the event.

"I thought it was a very good experience for going into the sixth grade to be able to listen to the Prime Minister and President Bush talk," said Sammarco. "It was really cool."

IN THE Japanese Immersion program students in grades 1-6 learn math, science and health in Japanese, while simultaneously developing an appreciation for Japanese culture. The program has been going on at the school for 15 years, and in March of 2006, Great Falls Elementary officially recognized its new sister school, the Kake Educational Institution in Fukuyama, Hiroshima.

"I love that half of the day I get to learn things in Japanese, and I love the custom of it, and I love the language," said Nicole Dunne, 10, a rising sixth grade student at Great Falls Elementary. "It's a hard language to learn, but once you learn it, it makes learning other languages easier."

Jacqueline Sammarco has found another use for Japanese.

"I can speak to my sister in Japanese and my mom doesn't know what we're saying," she said.

Nicole Dunne also attended last week's White House event, and agreed that seeing the President and the Prime Minister up close and in person was an incredible experience. Although the students did not formally meet President Bush, he did wave at them.

"It was hot but worth it," said Dunne. "It was surprising. I didn't think we'd be so close to the White House, and we were very close to the podium too."

Lili Kennington said that the White House event was a wonderful way to cap off the year's studies.

"They have been studying Japanese for four and five years, and learning about the language and the culture, and for them to be invited by the Embassy, and to be able to see the event in person is something that none of them will ever forget for the rest of their lives," said Kennington.