Marysville grade school students set to travel to Japan

From left, Liberty Elementary students Bradley Taylor, Jordan Velaquez, Maddy Chapman and Rhiannon Shirley are already gearing up for their Nov. 3-14 trip to Hiroshima, Japan. - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, Liberty Elementary students Bradley Taylor, Jordan Velaquez, Maddy Chapman and Rhiannon Shirley are already gearing up for their Nov. 3-14 trip to Hiroshima, Japan.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — For the students of Liberty Elementary, it's a trip that's literally been a lifetime in the making.

Liberty Elementary became a sister school to Nakano Elementary in Hiroshima, Japan, 24 years ago, and this November, a group of students and accompanying adults from Liberty Elementary will be taking the school's second trip to Nakano Elementary since the two schools became sister schools.

"It started with me and my cousin," said Connie Kantzer, an educational assistant at Liberty. "She lives in Japan and we started writing to each other when we were little children. We finally met as adults and decided that we wanted to go from being pen-pals to having 'pen-schools,'" she laughed.

The last time a group of students from Liberty visited Nakano was 1995. On the 50-year anniversary of its bombing, the Hiroshima peace assembly invited 280 students from 14 cities in nine countries around the world to attend. Four students from Liberty and four from Pearl Harbor made up the entire student group from the United States.

"We were very fortunate to be part of it," said Kantzer, who noted that a group of nearly half a dozen students from Nakano visited Liberty a few years later, in the late 1990s.

Students from the two schools have continued to send each other letters, pictures, books, art projects and souvenirs.

From Nov. 3-14, first-grader Jordan Velaquez, third-grader Bradley Taylor, fifth-grader Maddy Chapman and sixth-grader Rhiannon Shirley will finally get a firsthand look at the school and the country that they've seen in pictures and read about in books, letters and e-mails. The students will be staying with host families and going on sightseeing tours, although this trip will not be an all-expenses-paid visit like it was for the last group of Liberty students.

"I'm excited to go to their school," Velaquez said. "I want to play with the other kids during recess. Do they even have recess?"

"I want to try new food over there," Bradley Taylor said. "Raw fish and octopus sounds really good. I'd like to see how a different culture works and how they do math, science and other subjects."

Chapman expressed curiosity about Japanese homes, since she's heard they have different architecture. Shirley is eager to meet her host family and Japanese students her age, but unlike Taylor, she thinks sushi "sounds disgusting."

Liberty Elementary Assistant Principal Tami Taylor noted that teachers and adult family members accompanying the students are expected to pay their own way, while the school will be able to pay "a small amount" toward the group's airfare. Two of the students are already trying to raise funds to cover their own costs, but the Liberty PTA is also accepting donations at the school, located at 1919 10th St. For more information, you can call the PTA at 360-653-0625.

"The students inspire us to stay enthused and creative," Tami Taylor said.

Liberty Elementary teacher Sharon Desmond thanked the Tulalip Tribes, the Everett Aquasox, the Seattle Mariners and the Washington Apple Commission for their generosity in helping furnish the group with gifts to give the students, staff and host families of Nakano Elementary.

"Our kids aren't just representing Liberty," Desmond said. "They're representing the Marysville School District and American education as well."

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