BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Next month, students and staff from Japan will once again be in Clarkston as part of the sister school exchange program.
It will also be a celebration as the program is now in its 20th year.
Faye Valtadoros, the Japanese teacher at Clarkston High School, Clarkston Junior High, and Sashabaw Middle School, has spearheaded the exchange program since 2006, when she joined the district.
“I didn’t think about how long it would last,” said Valtadoros. “We continued to welcome them (from Chiba Higashi) every year. After working here for two years, I started taking students on a trip to Japan. It’s funny how time really does fly. Here we are celebrating the 20-year anniversary.”
She said the one thing she didn’t expect was the increase of student interest from Japan.
“Years ago, while in Japan, I had a conversation with their administration and the English teachers about increasing the student numbers coming to Michigan,” Valtadoros said. “We went from 10 students and two teachers to 16 students and two teachers. I take anywhere from 10-16 students every other year to Japan.”
From the students’ perspectives, there is everything to love about this program.
“I really enjoy the week exchange program and the Japan trip we are able to take,” said CHS junior Alexis Molina. “It helps us further learn about the culture and help us better improve our Japanese skills while helping other students learning English improve. I don’t think I’ve heard of a class having a week dedicated to learning about a country from others who’ve lived there their whole life, which is really cool and unique to the Japanese program. The Japan trip is also a once-in-a-lifetime experience – two weeks dedicated to experiencing life in Japan.”
“I love the way all different aspects are incorporated,” added sophomore Savannah Wheeler. “Obviously, we have the basics and learning the language, but also get to learn a lot about the culture both in class and in the Japanese Club. We get the experience and opportunity to host a Japanese student, where we get to learn about all of these things in person.”
The 20-year celebration will take place March 25 at 6 p.m. and will include the 15 Japanese students and two staff, inside the Performing Arts Center and cafeteria at the high school. The event is open to the public and will have guest speakers in the PAC and Japanese activities in the cafeteria, such as origami, calligraphy, and a tea ceremony.
“The Japanese students and my students will be working cooperatively to work at the stations to introduce a little bit of Japanese culture to the community,” said Valtadoros. “We’ll inviting the community to this event to showcase this unique sister school exchange program, the Japanese program, and show the great things happening at Clarkston Community Schools.
“Also, we want to show we are working together to continue building that bond between Japan and America, and that the bond is strong. Through these types of exchange programs, we’re teaching our youth the importance of understanding and respecting other cultures and knowing what we do here is not necessarily what other countries do, and that’s okay.”
Hosting the Japanese students is part of the experience the students and their families love.
“I like the fact it gives us an opportunity to learn about and make friends from another country,” junior Summer Roy said. “If you think you can do it, do it. It’s a great experience and something that you will remember for the rest of your life. You’re only in high school once.”
Sophomore Samantha Brandon agreed with Roy.
“I’ll always remember the people I met,” she said. “Last year was my first year hosting and it was amazing. I loved hanging out with my student. I would say they should definitely take the opportunity. Hosting is such a cool experience, and you’ll make friendships that will last a lifetime.”