IN NOVEMBER, Park Elementary Principal Diane Lenzi spent 18 days in Japan on a Fulbright Memorial Fund scholarship to study the Japanese school system. So it was only appropriate that when a delegation of Japanese educators expressed interest in learning about American schools, Lenzi invited them to Park.
Last week, the Japanese group visited Lenzi's school and Brooklyn Park Middle.
Lenzi was the third county educator in as many years to be selected for the Fulbright honor. She was chosen for a proposal based on Park's continuing study of international cultures. It just happened that a study of Japanese culture was planned for this school year.
"I wrote a proposal on how to integrate Japanese culture into our school. It was what we already planned to do, with an added emphasis on technology, and it was accepted," Lenzi said.
Lenzi said she found education in Japan different from that in the United States. For example, in Japan, there are no special education programs, and pupils are grouped according to age rather than ability. The average elementary class size is 45 to 50 pupils, compared to 20 to 22 in the United States.
"The PTAs in Japan are very powerful, and all parents must join and come to every meeting," Lenzi said. "The PTAs provide input on the hiring and firing of teachers. There are no suspensions and no one is expelled. A child is expected to behave. They are there to learn, and if they don' t want to learn, they will eventually go away.
"The buildings are very institutional looking; even the elementary schools are four stories high. And there were very few things on the walls," Lenzi said.
She described her visit as being beyond belief. "The air was filled with the aroma of burning autumn leaves and jasmine. Everywhere you go there is soft music playing. There are so many people there that they have to live in harmony. You don't tread on anyone else's space. There was absolutely no litter, and I looked for litter. The people are unconditionally kind and gracious."
One unforgettable aspect was a visit to Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Museum.
"In the fourth grade, children read the story of 'Sakako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,' and there is a tribute there," Lenzi said. "It is the true story of a child who died of radiation poisoning. There were thousands of paper cranes there from children from all over the world."
Park's pupils made paper cranes and gave them to a member of the visiting Japanese delegation to place at the memorial, she said.
When the delegation arrived at Park and saw its bright colors and the pupils' work on display, they declared it a "glamorous school."
"We celebrate what children do; there is very little of that over there," Lenzi said.
And it was that celebration of pupil accomplishment that the delegation was most interested in. "There is a movement in Japan towards what they call a 'zest for living.' They want what we have; they want the children to laugh and enjoy learning," she said.
The visitors asked why Park pupils don't clean their school. "In Japan, the students clean the schools. They are given a job in kindergarten and keep doing it until they graduate. I saw them cleaning the floors, cleaning the toilets. They feel that gives the children a sense of responsibility and instills pride in the schools. They just couldn't understand why that doesn't happen here," Lenzi said.
Park pupils were prepared for the visit. During her time in Japan, Lenzi communicated with them daily via the Internet. Every day she sent photos of the places she visited and shared what she was learning. By the time the Japanese delegation arrived, Park pupils were able to welcome them in Japanese and sing the Japanese national anthem.
After spending the morning at Park, the delegation made a stop at Brooklyn Park Middle School. They met with Principal Brenda Hurbanis, teachers, and Angel Correa, the student council president.
"I gave them a brief overview of the history of the school and the middle school program," Hurbanis said. "They attended our Student of the Month awards ceremony and saw Adam Lindley and Meghan Dunkerley receive their awards. Then we had a question-and-answer session.
"When the delegation asked Angel what was the one thing that she liked about Brooklyn Park Middle, she replied that the students always respect each other regardless of ability, disability and race. I was really proud of her answer," Hurbanis said.
The visit to Japan made a lasting impression on Lenzi. "I visit Japan every day in my mind," she said.
Brooklyn Park might become the destination of choice for international educators. Park has previously played host to educators from Nigeria and Russia. And Lenzi has high hopes for another trip to a foreign land and said she hopes more international educators will visit Park.
Early Easter fun
It isn't too early to start Easter celebrations. The Patapsco Park Improvement Association will sponsor an Easter Extravaganza from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Lloyd Keaser Center, 5757 Belle Grove Road in Pumphrey.
Admission is $3 for children age 4 and older; parents and those younger than age 4 will be admitted free.
Children can enjoy an afternoon of arts and crafts, games, door prizes and an Easter egg hunt. Refreshments will be served.
Information: Nina Lattimore, 410-789-5482, or Cheri Russell, 410-789-7662.