Japanese program to be replaced with French
Eleanor Yarkin, Reporter
The Japanese program has been a key component of the high school since it began in the 1990s. Now, 30 years later, the administration has decided to end the program. Next year, French will be introduced, a class which the administration predicts will be easier to staff than Japanese.
“We’ve struggled filling vacancies in Japanese for a long time,” high school principal Danny Rock said.
Fred Harriman, the current Japanese teacher, submitted his resignation for the year this January, leaving the administration wondering if Japanese was a viable program that could continue to be offered at the high school.
“There was a good argument to make that we should have moved on last year and not had Japanese this year because we had tremendous difficulty finding applicants,” Rock said. “The long-term sustainability of Japanese has been tenuous for a while.”
Some students are disappointed in the decision to discontinue the program. It even prompted one student to create a petition.
“[The petition was] to have the school… keep looking for a teacher over the summer, so [when] we were to come back, they would be able to teach Japanese,” first-year Japanese student Colby Merrill said.
The petition Merrill created got over 150 signatures but failed to change the decision to discontinue Japanese. Current Japanese I students will have the option to take Japanese II as an independent study through an online course, which the school would pay for.
“We have a true obligation to offer a consecutive two years of [a] language to every student in our school because it’s a graduation requirement and a college admissions requirement,” Rock said.
However, offering Japanese without the help of a teacher in the classroom has raised concerns about the quality of learning that will take place.
“People don’t want to use a computer to work with this — they want a person to actually physically work with them,” Merrill said. “If we are going to get an education for Japanese, then being educated by a teacher is very important.”
Another concern is the way it will impact the exchange program with Himeji Minami High School (HMHS) in Himeji, Japan.
The exchange program started in 1988 and has since continued annually. This year, 20 HMHS students and two of their teachers were hosted at the high school in late March.
“The US can seem like a very cold and uncaring society until you have an American friend,” Harriman said. “The host families and students and so many people in the community gave us their time to help the Japanese students understand many things about our society and culture.”
Both VHS and HMHS are committed to continuing the program into the future regardless of the changes taking place at the high school.
“Plans are already underway to enable a group of VHS students to go to HMHS in spring of next year,” Harriman said. “The Japanese teachers that came this time, Yamamoto-sensei and Koda-sensei, told me that HMHS is an enthusiastic participant in the program, and its administration wishes for the program to continue regardless of any other issues.”
To replace Japanese, the administration is looking to incorporate a French language program next year. A small group of students at the high school are currently taking independent study French and are happy to see the language offered as a class.
“You can lose track of [an independent study] easily just because you’re not focused in it every day,” sophomore Mead Gill, who is enrolled in French III through an online program, said. “I think being in a classroom setting would have made it easier.”
Beginning next year, students interested in taking French will have it as an offered class. While a French teacher has not yet been hired, the administration foresees that French will be a more sustainable and staffable program than Japanese.
“We do have a couple of current Vashon school district staff members that are certified in teaching French,” Rock said. “Because I know that we have some internal candidates that are interested and qualified, then I know we’re going to have applicants.”
The transition from Japanese to French will change the high school and potentially its relationship with HMHS while also creating opportunity for new traditions to be built around the French language and culture.
“It was time to move on from the instability of trying to staff a Japanese program to a language that would be much more sustainable and accessible, and French for us right now represents that second language,” Rock said.