NML Benefactor Marian J. Okada Highlights Outstanding Japanese Language Program at Waipahu High School in Waipahu, Hawaii, on Oahu
By Marian Okada and Laura Murray
Ms. Marian Okada, who has been a benefactor of the National Museum of Language, was invited to the public Waipahu High School on Oahu as a potential donor to the Japanese language program there. She was amazed at the level of preparation of each student, who read remarks in Japanese, as well as the beautiful student-designed and created Japanese stone garden built on the school campus. Their teacher, Will Smith, is the dynamo behand this great program, that includes student exchanges with sister entities in Hiroshima and Hokkaido. Next year two Waipahu students will go to Japan to study. She reported that it was great to see a public school with diverse students push foreign language studies.
The teacher, Will Smith, is a native of Ohio who was introduced to the study of Japanese while in Japan on a JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program, which is funded by the Japanese government. He only intended to stay in Japan for one year, but he became so interested in Japanese language and culture that he stayed the maximum of three years on the JET program. The skills he developed in Japanese led him from Ohio to Hawaii, where he initially found jobs in the private sector, and eventually to Waipahu High School. After demonstrating his Japanese language skills to another teacher, he was offered a job on the spot to teach Japanese. He has stayed there teaching Japanese for 18 years, continually inspired by his students.
Based on his own experience as a foreign student in Japan, initially Mr. Smith hoped to take his students to Japan for educational trips, but it turned out that the cost was prohibitive for most of his students. One of his innovations that has enabled his students to have contact with native Japanese peers without leaving Hawaii has been hosting hundreds of students from Japan who visit Hawaii under the Japan School Trips program for two-week familiarization tours, to come to Waipahu High School for day-long programs with the local students. The Japanese schools sending the students to Hawaii make donations to the Japanese department at Waipahu High School. These funds cover travel costs for a few Waipahu students per year to visit Japan for two-week homestays with a Japanese family.
Mr. Will Smith is truly a model of creativity and dedication to his students. Photos of the Japanese stone garden he and his students built are a tangible symbol of the impact one amazing teacher can have.