Fond Farewells

It was an early morning today getting down to Modesto to see the Kyoto students and teachers off. I have a 50 min. commute to work, and Johansen is even further than my normal drive to the Reno Ave. Technology Center or the District Office. Before leaving I checked the Modesto Bee webpage for the story on our project. It ran! I thought I had left early enough at 6:00am to get here by 7:30am.

I wanted to stop and pick up 25 copies of the Modesto Bee to send home with the teachers and students from Kyoto. Either they are not printing as many papers these days, or the Bee is a very popular seller in the morning, because I had to go to five different gas stations and supermarkets to get enough copies to fill a grocery bag. One station asked why I needed more than one copy. Upon telling them why, the clerk said he had read the story about the exchange and that it sounded “really cool”. I finally got enough and was only a little late to Johansen, but it was worth the effort. (Mr. Fujii relieved me of the bag of newspapers).

Students were still arriving with their families as I got there.

Many of the student teams that had worked together these past three weeks were taking group shots when I arrived.

Many others were saying their tearful goodbyes and exchanging gifts.

Cameras were being passed from person to person for last snapshots before getting on the bus to leave.

Many friendships were formed over these three weeks and many of the students found it very hard to say goodbye.

And a lot of the host parents were going in late today to come and see their students off.

In order to get the group to move closer to the bus, Rob Riter (Kyoto teacher) asked to take one final group shot (which moved everyone 20 feet closer to the bus).

The variety of gifts changing hands was amazing. Some were purchased while others were handmade and from the heart. One group took a picture together in the green room and then had everyone sign it.

We had to make a compartment check of the bus prior to its departure, and not surprisingly we found a student with a Subway sandwich trying to stow away on the bus in the luggage compartment.

The inevitable was unavoidable, and they did have to start loading the students on the bus to keep on schedule.

But then some of the Modesto students had to say one last goodbye and begged to get on the bus.

And the Kyoto students had one last chance to snap some more pictures of their friends.

But then it was time to say goodbye.

We just got a call from the Highway Patrol that there are few students still running after the bus out on the 205 heading west towards San Francisco. I hope they are good swimmers.

Speaking of buses, this trip cannot be brought to a close without recognizing the people who made this happen. One person has been involved with this exchange long before I got involved, Ed Santwier. He has a local non-profit that Kyoto Gakuen uses to organize host family arrangements and local transportation. We had a lot harder time getting host families with this three week exchange being in the middle of the year. Ed provided transportation for the kids from Modesto High and Enochs every day to and from Johansen. This program would not have been successful in placing students if he did not get the kids where they needed to be each day and coordinate all the home stays.

Yoshiko Bustillos from Nippon Travel Agency coordinates all the travel for Kyoto Gakuen for these trips. She was instrumental in getting the kids here and helping to organize all the field trips. She even helped an American student who waited too long to get a ticket for the Kyoto Spring Break Exchange.

The teachers are who really make this work. We are very lucky to have American teachers in Japan teaching at Kyoto Gakuen. Rob Riter (left – Kyoto) and Brad Cornwell (right – Modesto) worked very well together coordinating the classroom lesson plans and projects for this delayed summer school class. They both get along so well with the students and inspire them to do their very best. Rob popped for some Mountain Mike’s pizza as the grand prize for the team with the best documentary.

We’ve known Takaya Fujii for several years now. He was very involved last April when we took our first group of students to Kyoto. He’s always great with the students and has a real sense of humor. He loves American food and always snaps a picture of each meal before diving in, the bigger the plate or glass the better.

And Kiyohiro Lee was here during the October visit and last year when we went to Kyoto. He teaches English at Kyoto Gakuen and I had many conversations with him on this visit. He was a great sport with the kids, and they have a great deal of respect for him. Several of Mr. Cornwell’s students had Mr. Lee and Mr. Fujii doing green screen acting for student films they are working on. The films should be completed by the time we travel to Kyoto next month, and we’ve promised to take copies for them.

And then there’s me (Stan Trevena). I always like to melt into the background and take the pictures. This project gives me a great appreciation for the job of a teacher. That is very helpful in my job as an administrator for Modesto City Schools. I love working with the students and I can see why so many enter into this as a career. I get to meet so many amazing students and their parents as part of this project. I get to interact and network with so many educators, both directly with the project and indirectly with all my online discussions and presentations on this project. As I’ve mentioned before, I am learning Japanese because of this project. Yesterday Mr. Cornwell and I presented a plaque to the visiting students and teacher for this trip. I presented this to them in Japanese. It’s one thing to practice a speech in Japanese with your Japanese teacher, quite another to get up in front of a full assembly and try. Apparently I did something right, as the Kyoto students laughed at the right parts of the speech.

I am so thankful to be able to participate in this program. It’s a team effort, and we have a pretty great group of people making this happen. We are carrying on an exchange program that was started in this district 20 years ago. I’ve been able to add my own virtual world spin to this project and expand it from a once a year activity to something that carries on throughout the year. It is so rewarding to see these two groups of students come together so effortlessly, see these friendships grow so quickly, and to see the work that these students produce in such a short time together. If each of us can take even a few things from each other’s cultures and integrate them back into our own, we will all win.

And now for the fun part, tonight we’re having a little film festival at the Trevena household to watch all six of the documentaries that the students produced these past three weeks. Pass the popcorn please!

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