Dana Masters remembers what it was like to be a student at Glendale Elementary School celebrating the arrival of the delegation from Higashimurayama, Japan.
“This is really exciting,” said Masters, who is now a student at Northwest Missouri State University and a former student delegate to Japan. “You don’t realize it when you are younger, but this is important. I think it is nice to have a program like this because it is building connections with another country.”
Twenty-nine delegates from Japan are in Independence as part of Independence’s Sister City program. The adult delegation, which includes Higashimurayama Mayor Takashi Watanabe, visits Independence every five years. This is the 35th year for the program. Activities during their visit have included a visit to Missouri Town and Powell Gardens, shopping on the Country Club Plaza and a tour of Independence.
But the highlight of their visit to Independence is a visit to Glendale Elementary, which also has a Sister School partnership with Megurita Elementary in Higashimurayama. The program started in 1988, and every year since, both schools have exchanged teachers, students and administrators so that both schools can learn from each other.
“This program has changed lives and changed families forever,” said Sue Hammett, a retired teacher and founder of the Japanese Club at Glendale Elementary. “Many of the students here have grown up and traveled to Japan, forming life-long friendships. Students learn that people may live differently in another country, but we all have the same values. There is a commonality.”
The Japanese delegation arrived at Glendale in grand style - a police-led motorcade. students from Glendale lined the circle drive to greet the visitors and then presented a program welcoming the Japanese delegation to Glendale.
“We think it is very important to keep its relationship (between Higashimurayama and Independence). I think we understand each other much better and long-lasting friendships are created,” said Masami Makimura, who is with the residential service division for Higashimurayama City Hall. “For the Megurita students, they really enjoy having a relationship with students from a different country. They don’t have much chance to interact with foreigners otherwise, so it is good for them to have friends with someone across the ocean.”
Hammett was instrumental in starting the Sister School program 25 years ago after approaching school districts and city officials about correlating the program with the Sister City program. Two years prior, in 1986, she started the Japanese Club as a way to introduce students to cultures outside their own.
“I had always had an interest in different cultures and the state department of education at that time was offering grants to teachers to implement new and innovative programs. I thought the Japanese culture was different enough that students would be interested,” she said. “Then after a couple of years, I decided we were not reaching enough students. I wanted to expose the entire school, so the Sister School program was created. My hope is that someday, it will be expanded to all schools.”
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