Yujin Gakuen is a Japanese Immersion School set up by staff and parents to accomodate the need for bilingual education.
Nestled in a quiet neighborhood of North Eugene in Oregon, lies Yujin Gakuen school, the first public Japanese Immersion School in the United States. Yujin Gakuen means “happy garden of learning.”
The Yujin Gakuen school was established because the high tech advances made over the past two decades in both communications and travel have facilitated the need for further education in multi cultural adaptation.
“In addition to high levels of academic achievement, a major benefit [of attending a bilingual educational facility] is students being immersed in a culture that is often different from their own,” states Alan Chinn, principal of both Yujin Gakuen (YG) and attached school, Corridor.
“Most students come to YG with little to no knowledge of Japanese culture and language, and there is inherent value in students learning about a culture other than their own in a deep way.” Furthermore, Mr. Chinn states that some parents of students at YG have observed their children becoming more aware of their own culture.
Not only has the school taught children about Japanese culture, but Mr. Chinn states there is a significant and growing body of brain research, that shows learning a second language activates parts of the brain that helps students access learning, and therefore have higher levels of achievement.
The 266 students attending the facility are learning the three components of the Japanese writing system, along with the regular state mandated curriculum areas such as math, language arts, science, and social studies.
“Kanji are the Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.
Hiragana and Katakana are a Japanese syllabary, and are basic components of the Japanese writing system. Hiragana is a syllabary used to write words of traditional Japanese origin. The same words have Kanji characters that stand for them. Katakana is a syllabary used to write borrowed words and words of foreign origin, such as names. It is more angular in appearance than Hiragana,” Mr. Chinn reported.
Besides the learning of components of the language, students learn the basic studies in both English and Japanese. Reading and writing classes are the only areas that students learn exclusively in the English classroom.
The school employs 11 full-time teachers. Two at each grade level, with one teaching Japanese and one English teacher. At the kindergarten level, there is one full-time teacher who teaches two kindergarten sessions. With the exception of reading and writing, all classes are taught in a bi-lingual environment.
Yujin Gakuen opened its doors in 1988, born of an idea of a group of parents and staff who wanted to add a Japanese language immersion program in Eugene. Some of the original thinking was that Japan continued to be a vital economic, political, and cultural influence in our world. As we continue our relationship with Pacific Rim countries, learning Japanese opens the door for our children to develop a deeper and broader perspective of the world.
“For our students, Japanese will become an invaluable tool, giving them many opportunities in their future. The program originally started with kindergarten and then added another grade level each year, until they were a K-12 program. The program eventually grew so that there are two teachers (and two full classes) at each grade level,” says Chinn.
Since Yujin Gakuen is a public school, any student in the district may attend. Mr. Chinn further reports that often times the school is mistaken for a charter or private school, which is certainly not the case.
He has been the principal of both YG and Corridor for four years, with both schools adding up to being the largest elementary school in Eugene. In fact, the two put together are larger than most middle schools in the area.
One parent of two students of Yujin Gakuen states that not only has the school taught a second language to her children, but also teaches them cultural acceptance.
Marina Perry, mother of a first grade and a fifth grade student, says that in talking with other parents of children at a high school level are more apt to be accepted into colleges, as the bilingual education stands out on entrance forms.
“The second language and cultural education they will receive at YG will open up more college opportunities as well as career choices, “ she states.
Ms. Perry reports her girls are doing well in the school. “Considering the amount of homework and expectations the school requires, the kids are doing an excellent job keeping up. The staff at YG really goes above and beyond with spending time on where the kids may need attention.”
She states the girls love the school. Marina adds YG also has the children involved in many performances, public speaking, and arts activities that are part of the Japanese culture.
Marina’s youngest daughter was enrolled in YG at the kindergarten level, while her oldest daughter was placed at the start of the 3rd grade. She reports her oldest struggled to learn the language and to understand the teacher’s lessons in Japanese, but the school spent extra time before classes to bring her to a point where she loves the language.
As a single parent, she states the only challenge she faces is not having a full understanding of the homework assignments her children bring home, and the amount of homework for such young children is hard to keep up with. However, she said the school offers a lot of support and opportunities for the girls to ask for and get help with their homework at the school.
When asked if she felt her kids were getting a good education, Marina replied, “I feel my girls are getting as close to the best education I have seen at the public school level. This school seems to have a higher level of expectation for elementary school kids and the teachers are committed to going out of their way to help where needed.”