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School Too Structured, Visitors Say


Two dozen student teachers from Japan visited Valley Alternative Magnet School in Van Nuys recently for a bird's-eye view of a San Fernando Valley classroom and were surprised to learn that American kindergarten classrooms can be a world apart from those back home.

With high-end cameras and old-fashioned note pads, the students from Shimonoseki Women's Junior College silently watched as teacher Nicole Kops and co-teacher Sandi Davis took two classrooms of kindergartners through a morning of math, snacks and reading.

The aspiring teachers--none of whom spoke fluent English--summed up the morning with their own comparison and contrast to kindergarten classrooms in Japan.

"In Japan, we focus on play and freedom," Yuka Hironaka, 33, said through a translator. "These children here listen for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. That is a big surprise."

Other student teachers echoed her sentiments.

"I don't agree with this type of education," said 22-year-old Chizu Kaku. "It's so packed and structured. The children aren't laughing. I don't think they are enjoying it."

Their reaction surprised school administrator Rhona Feldman.

"Because of their tremendous reputation, I thought they would start academics earlier than they [do]," Feldman said. "[The student teachers] were amazed at how much [our students] were able to do . . . This is the agenda that America is pushing."

Keiko Ichiki, a teacher at the college who accompanied the visitors, said Japanese children typically learn to read and write in first grade.

"We do not teach too much reading and writing in kindergarten," she said. "Playing is what is helpful."

During the morning visit, the Japanese students worked one-on-one with kindergartners, making birds, paper hats and a miniature tables and chairs by folding decorative paper, much to the delight of the young students.

"I've never done anything like this before," said 5-year-old Lucy Riley.

The group finished its tour of the kindergarten-through-12th grade school by sharing an all-American lunch of submarine sandwiches with the school's high school students.

The Japanese school has been sending students to Southern California for about five years as part of its graduation requirement. Last year, the group toured 32nd Street/USC Performing Arts Magnet School near downtown Los Angeles.


Young Poets: Nine fourth-graders from Granada Elementary School will have poems published in the 12th edition of the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. The students are Derek Demarse, Matthew Handleman, Vivian Kim, Melissa Janson, Erick Aguirre, Theresa Lee, Claudia Sandoval, Richard Kane and Samuel Dangcil.

The Anthology of Poetry, published in North Carolina, was established in 1989 to develop creative expression in children. Paperback copies are $6.95; hardback, $12.95, and can be ordered at most bookstores. For more information, see

Bravo School: Glendale High School received an arts education award at the recent 19th Annual Bravo Awards presented by the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. The award was $5,000 in cash.

The Bravo Award was established in 1982 to recognize educators and schools for innovation and creativity in arts education. Seventy-three teachers and 39 school districts from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties were nominated.


Valley Exhibit: Fourteen Valley schools will participate this month in the first Valleywide student art show to mark National Youth Art Month.

Borders Books at 6510 Canoga Ave. in Canoga Park will exhibit kindergarten and first-grade work. Works by students in second grade through high school will be shown at the Canoga Park Youth Art Center at 7222 Remmet Ave.

Participating elementary schools in Woodland Hills are Calabash Street School, Lockhurst Drive School, Serrania Avenue School, Woodlake Avenue School and Woodland Hills Elementary School.

Participating schools in Reseda are Vanalden Avenue Elementary School and Diane S. Leichman High School.

From Van Nuys: Kester Avenue Elementary School/Kester Gifted-High Ability Center and West Valley Special Education Center.

Other participating schools are: Studio City's Carpenter Avenue School; Canoga Park's Hart Street School; Granada Hills' Haskell School; Mission Hills' San Jose Street Elementary School; and Canoga Park's Welby Way School/Welby Way Gifted-High Ability Center.


Class Notes appears every Wednesday. Send news about schools to the Valley Edition, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax it to (818) 772-3338.

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