Hawaii seniors Betty Sugarman, left, and Rose Meece sang with preschoolers and teachers in summer during their trip to Japan. The program is sponsored by the Hawaii Intergenerational Network.
Seniors bring aloha to Japan’s kids
A program teaching preschoolers English in Yokohama is looking for volunteers
Rose Meece had no teaching experience, but plenty of life experience.
So when she got into the classroom, she sprinkled hugs into her lesson plans and rewarded students with hula lessons and paper leis.
For three months the 71-year-old grandmother and great-grandmother taught English to preschoolers in Yokohama, Japan, as part of a new program spearheaded by the Hawaii Intergenerational Network.
And her contributions were well received.
"I walked away from Japan in tears," Meece said. "The best part of it was I knew ... we had touched the lives of those children. We were impacting them."
Meece was one of two Hawaii seniors who participated in the cultural program this summer, which is believed to be the only one of its kind in the islands. Their success has prompted its expansion.
The intergenerational network is looking to send four seniors, age 50 and up, to the Japanese preschool in January. Room and board, air fare and a small stipend are provided. Applicants need not speak Japanese.
The deadline to apply is flexible, but interested residents should inquire before mid-December.
Mae Mendelson, the network's director, said she came up with the program last year after seeing the success of similar intergenerational programs in Hawaii preschools.
She pitched it to one of the heads of the preschool after he told her that he was looking for interns to teach English.
Meece was one of the program's first participants; two more Hawaii seniors, a retired teacher and a pediatrician, are just about finishing their stint in Japan now, Mendelson said.
"The preschool is very happy," she said. "It's the cross-cultural aspect. It's the intergenerational aspect."
Meece admits it was difficult trying to adjust to life in Japan. "I missed my friends," she said. "I missed Hawaii."
But she soon got used to navigating the bus and subway system and looked forward to weekends, when she traveled the countryside.
She said her day at the preschool started at about 9:30 a.m. and went through 3:30 p.m.
The seniors taught the children songs and developed an English instruction curriculum, which included lots of hands-on activities.
Since she has returned to Hawaii, Meece has received several letters from friends she made in Japan.
She hopes to keep up the correspondence for years to come.
For more information on the program, contact the intergenerational network at 220-8686 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.