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Families Host Japanese Students

Great Falls Elementary School welcomes 45 visitors from its sister school in Japan.

On Friday, March 23, more than 40 Great Falls families welcomed 45 visiting Japanese students from Great Falls Elementary sister school, the Hiroshima Kake Educational Institution in Fukuyama, Japan. The visiting students spent the weekend getting to know their American counterparts and experiencing American life with an American family.

The weekend began with a welcoming ceremony on Friday afternoon at Great Falls Elementary School, and the festivities included a performance by the Taiko Drum Team, a special presentation by Great Falls Elementary students, and a ceremonial tree planting to commemorate the occasion. Dr. Jack Dale, Division Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, also participated in the special program.

After the welcoming ceremony, the visiting students went home with their host families and enjoyed some free time together. Each host family planned their own itineraries, using the hobbies and interests of their particular student guest for inspiration. Some families visited Great Falls National Park and shopped at the Leesburg Outlets, while others enjoyed a backyard barbeque and a baseball game at Langley High School. A "Hollywood Extravaganza" party was held for all of the students and their host families on Saturday evening, March 24 at Riverbend Country Club. The students departed for New York on Sunday morning, March 25. New York capped off their visit to the United States, which also included a stop in Chicago.

Great Falls Elementary School and the Hiroshima Kake Educational Institution became official sister schools at a signing ceremony held in March 2006. The following June, 12 students from the Great Falls Elementary School Japanese Immersion program visited the Kake School in Japan, and were able to spend some time living with a Japanese family. Last weekend, those same families had the opportunity to return the hospitality, as some of the Great Falls families hosted the Japanese student whose family had hosted their child.

"It will be like a family reunion when Miku gets here," said Makenzie Parent prior to the arrival of their Japanese guests.

Makenzie was one of the Great Falls Elementary students who was able to host a friend from her June 2006 visit to Japan.

Great Falls Elementary School student Alexander Obolensky was also excited to be reunited with a friend from the 2006 trip, and said, "I can't wait to see Hiroshi again."

The two schools were brought together by Akie Abe, wife of Japan 's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the First Lady of Japan. It was through Abe's relationship with Yukio Tada, senior vice president of the Sojitz Corporation of America in Washington D.C., that the final sister school agreement was made.

"This sister school relationship is a wonderful way to promote the Japanese culture and to broaden understanding between our two countries," said Abe.

The Japanese Immersion program began at Great Falls Elementary School more than 15 years ago, and currently has more than 115 students enrolled. Students from grades one through six learn math, science and health in Japanese, and are also taught an appreciation for Japanese culture. Many of the Immersion students continue their Japanese studies as an elective at Cooper Middle School and Langley High School.

The Japanese Foundation, CGP, was founded in 1991 to promote mutual understanding between the United States and Japan on contemporary social issues, and has since become a strong supporter of bringing the sister school students together. Subsequently, CGP sponsored some of last weekend's events. In addition, Dr. Sufumi So, Modern and Classical Language professor at George Mason University , has supported the Japanese language program at Great Falls Elementary by providing students from her classes to help in the elementary and middle school classrooms.

"What's happening between Great Falls Elementary and the Hiroshima Kake Educational Institution is an exciting step towards creating a long term relationship that can continue through the middle and high school levels — and now with the support of George Mason University — we will be able to extend this relationship even further," said Yukio Tada.