This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Huntsville Japanese Supplementary School's first meeting on campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Established in North Alabama nearly 40 years ago, the school meets on Saturdays. Students at JSS meet only five class periods per week, and the academic school year runs from April to March.
Designed for students in the first through ninth grades, the purpose of the school is to teach Japanese language and mathematics to children of Japanese employees who have been transferred to North Alabama on a nonpermanent basis. When returning to Japan, students can easily re-adapt to the educational system in that country.
Yasuhiro Deguchi, who chairs the JSS board, said the second semester recently started. The addition of 16 new students brought total enrollment to 44. By March 2020, he estimated more than 70 students would attend Saturday school.
In addition to serving on the JSS board, Deguchi is president of TRIS USA Inc. in Athens. The company manufactures carbon brushes for direct current motors.
"We are expecting to increase the number of students at JSS due to Mazda-Toyota, (Y-tec Keylex Toyotetsu Alabama) and other Japanese-based auto suppliers," Deguchi said.
The board is also working to secure more instructors and educational space.
UAH alumnus Shigeyuki Ueno has been teaching at JSS since the school began meeting on the UAH campus.
"JSS is not mandatory and is mainly for students returning to Japan, and want a smooth transition from school in the U.S. to Japan," he said. "Students learn subjects similar to ways taught in Japan.”
On average, children in Japan spend more days, but shorter hours in school. According to the Center for Public Education, U.S. public schools require students to be in the classroom between 175 to 180 days a year. Japanese students attend school for up to 250 days a year, but not all of that time is devoted to classroom instruction.
Because it is crucial for Japanese children to cling to as many of the country’s traditions as possible, some Japanese traditions are being shared with the North Alabama community. Events include the Setsubun-Bean Throwing Festival (seasonal division), held in early February one day before the start of spring in accordance with the Japanese lunar calendar. People scatter beans the night before to drive away the evil spirits and to invite good luck.
“Shichi-go-san,” is a traditional rite of passage and festival day when parents take their children age 3, 5 and 7 to the shrines.
Since 2010, more than 200 Japanese supplementary schools have been established in 56 countries.