Judah Robinson and Cierra Brannon-Young weren’t shy in their welcome of the delegation of students from Takata High School.
The two Del Norte High School students gave their counterparts from Rikuzentakata, Japan, a heaping helping of Warrior spirit during a welcome assembly Tuesday. Judah and Cierra asked each student what foods he or she wanted to try, what sports they played and what activities they were looking forward to the most during their stay in Crescent City.
They further broke the ice by leading the entire 11-student Takata High School delegation in a game of musical chairs.
“They’ve been doing this exchange long before us seniors were even freshmen,” Cierra told her fellow students.
The student delegation from Takata High School, along with their principal Kazunori Sukawa and English teacher Akiko Tamura, arrived in Crescent City on Monday. According to Del Norte High School Principal Randy Fugate, each student was connected with a host family and will spend much of their time with them. Their last night in Crescent City will be Thursday, Fugate said.
A second delegation consisting of 10 teachers from Rikuzentakata’s K8 school system, along with a school board member, Superintendent Kenji Ken, Deputy Mayor Masayuki Okamoto and Kyoshi Murakami, Rikuzentakata’s senior executive advisor, will arrive later this week, said Del Norte County Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Harris.
Meanwhile, Rikuzentakata city officials will attend a meeting of the Redwood Coast Tsunami Working Group, take a tour of the Emergency Operations Center at the firehouse on Washington Boulevard and meet with representatives of SeaQuake and Rumiano Cheese company.
On Saturday, the group will visit local sites including the Crescent Beach Overlook, Battery Point Lighthouse, the new airport terminal and Stout Grove.
During the assembly, Fugate reminded his students that the visit of the Takata High School delegation is the continuance of a cultural exchange that began when a 20-foot long fishing vessel washed ashore on South Beach in 2013. The fishing vessel, named Kamome, Japanese for seagull, belonged to Takata High School and had been swept to sea by the March 2011 tsunami.
Since a group of Del Norte High School students took it upon themselves to clean the boat up and return it, students from each side of the ocean have visited the other. A delegation of Del Norte High School students were supposed to visit Rikuzentakata last year, Fugate said, but that trip was canceled due to increased aggression from North Korea.
This year, though a variety of activities are planned for the Takata High School delegation, including visits to CC Diner, a homecoming rally, barbecue and bowling at Tsunami Lanes, Fugate said the students will spend most of their time with their host families.
“My goal has been as these trips continue that we can dispense with some more of the high formalities and get into the relationship side of things quicker,” Fugate said, noting that the welcome assembly was student driven. “Every student is solo at a host family. That was their request.”
Fugate said the Takata High School teachers wanted to focus on English immersion. He also noted that during the assembly when Judah and Cierra asked each student what they were looking forward to the most, most said “home stay.”
“They’re excited,” Fugate said. “That’s probably the most unique change.”
Akiko Tamura, Takata High’s English teacher who has visited Del Norte High School with previous delegations, said not only was it difficult to pair 11 students up with each other at a host family, it also presented the students with a special challenge.
“I wanted to force them to speak English,” Tamura said, noting that if they were paired up her students would be speaking to each other in Japanese. “I hope my students will make many many friends here and see a different world.”
Sukawa said this is his first time visiting Del Norte High School.
“All of the host families are very excited and very warm,” he said. “I’m very relieved. I would like to continue our relationship of two sister schools and two cities.”
Harris said the second delegation will spend time getting a closer look at Del Norte Unified School District’s special education programs and its English as a second language program. The delegation will also look at the district’s native languages program.
“As we are teaching native languages as a heritage language so it doesn’t get lost, they are interested in potentially looking at dialects in their area that are getting lost and what that might look like as they revive that,” Harris said.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .